Leaves, seemingly so flat and yet so complex. They come is many varieties, and many colors. We’ll work on apple leaves to finish off last week’s apple.

These are complex leaves, laying in more than one plane with bulges and ripples. Jagged edges and rust spots.

Watch the time lapse or skip down for more.

The plane

Leaves with a center vein tend to lay more like an open book than a flat sheet of paper. Keep that image in mind as we progress through shading these leaves. The vein can be thought of as the spine of the book. Either the book spine is against the table and the pages curl up, or the book is face down and the spine is raised with the pages curling away. That is the simple version of a leaf.
If you are just finding this, this lesson is the second part of two parts with the apple being the first part. It does not matter which one you follow first. The lineart, link to the reference, and color list will be accompanied by a speed drawing video. This lesson is available as a longer video for you to follow along with me, I have it listed for free on Patreon.

Complex Planes

leaf-1The complex version of the leaf is what nature provides. Leaves are not an open book with flat pages, they undulate and curl, they have valleys and hills, all within one small section. Working leaves one section and one plane at a time helps make things easier. It also helps to study the leaf, understanding which part is a valley (and away from the light) and which is a hill (and towards the light). Random shading with lead to a wonky looking leaf.


I find it easier to go through and add in an underlayer of shading, picking out the darkest parts of the leaf and shading them in. Converting the picture to grayscale helps with this process. I am essentially creating a grayscale version of the leaf using the dark sepia and a light hand. After I have developed the basic structure of the leaf, I like to add in a base of light green then work on the rust spots. I will also go through with cream and pressing hard, I’ll essentially burnish in the veins to maintain their lighter color.

A slow process

leaf-4Working slow and with a light hand is key to working on leaves. It took me about the same amount of time to do the leaves as it did to do the apple. The stems took the least amount of time. Stems are like a mini cylinder, darker on one side and gradually curling around to the light. Again I worked them up in dark sepia first to create that graduated shading before adding in the browns or greens. Pay attention to the colors of the stems, not all stems are brown or even green, some of them start green and gradually change to a light brown. How did you do? Do you have an apple with leaves yet? Please share it with me here, or I can be tagged on instagram, or head on over to my facebook page and comment there.

What is next?

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. I’m currently working a magnolia with bokeh background for next week’s lesson. Let me know in the comments if you followed along and how your leaves and apple went.

Equipment (amazon affiliate links):

Colors used (Polychromos):

  • May Green 170
  • Chrome Oxide Green 278
  • Earth Green 172
  • Rose Carmine 124
  • Light Purple Pink 128
  • Cream 102
  • Pale Geranium Lake 121
  • Deep Red 223
  • Dark Red 225
  • Red Violet 194
  • Dark Sepia 175
  • Nougat 178
  • Walnut Brown 177
  • Warm Grey III 272


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