Nature’s Mark

A few years ago I was trying to teach myself to draw more realistic leaves when I accidentally set a muddy leaf down on my art journal. When I picked it up, the impression of the edges and veins had soaked into the paper, leaving a nice print of the leaf. I?ve since learned that ink?not mud?provides a better impression. But what began as an accident quickly became one of my favorite creativity exercises.

An added bonus of leaf printing is that it?s also a great way to learn the shapes of leaves and, if you?re lucky, see the intricate pattern laced through them. Leaf printing is easiest with thin paint or ink (I use calligraphy ink, acrylics and watercolor), but you can also get good results with thicker paint once you get the hang of it.

  • To begin, you need to gather a few fresh leaves. I find that I get the best impression within about 72 hours of picking them from the tree, plant or bush. Once the leaves begin to dry, their veins may shrink enough so you can?t get a detailed impression.
  • Make sure the leaf is clean. Residue on the leaves can affect the paint, so I use glass cleaner on a paper towel to clean them. Once the leaves are dry, you?ll want to do some test prints on scrap paper to get a feel for the amount and thickness of paint you should apply.

  • Ink can be applied directly to the leaf, but you?ll need to add water to watercolor and acrylic paints to thin them to an ink-like consistency. With a wide brush, apply a thin coat of paint over the back of the leaf. Make sure to brush the paint out all the way to the edges and stem, if there is one. The leaf should be covered with paint or ink, but not dripping.
  • Lay the leaf paint side down on your surface, making sure not to drag it. You can use a brayer to flatten the leaf, but I find that my hand works just as well. Make sure that you press each part of the leaf to the surface, including the edges and stem, then lift. If you prefer not to get paint on your hands, you can lay a sheet of paper over the leaf and rub over that.
  • You can use the same leaf over and over many times, by simply applying more paint. For variety, apply several colors of paint or ink side by side to the leaf at the same time For a natural look, choose a warm palette (yellow, orange and red, or yellow, green and brown). Or for fun, experiment with alternative colors like gold, purple or blue.

In addition to using the leaves in my artwork, I keep leaves on hand to use up paint that I can?t otherwise save. With plain paper, you can make beautiful wrapping paper, cards and journals. Leaf printing also works great on papier-mache boxes and fabric.

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