Drawing Winter Leaves

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The next time you take a walk after a snowfall, notice the leaves lying in the snow —some partially buried, others lying on top in various shapes and positions, such as an oak leaf curled up like a beckoning hand. But how do you get a pile of snow into the studio and keep it from melting? You could take photographs, but if you want to be more intimate with your subject than photography allows, there is a solution.

First, go outdoors and collect a large variety of leaves. Bring a large paper bag so the leaves will not be crushed. Two dozen leaves will give you enough choices for your composition. Also, you'll need a small box of white soap powder (make sure it is a powder, not flakes) and a 14" x 17" piece of heavy illustration board. Pour some soap powder on the board, but keep some in reserve. Then with a small brush, shape the "snow." Make little hills and valleys, keeping it irregular like snow would be in a wooded area.

Arrange your composition one leaf at a time. Use a spoon, spatula or wide brush to push the "snow" around. Create the impression that your leaves are part of the forest floor or a snow-covered field. When your leaves are arranged, take a spoonful of powder, and holding it about six inches away, gently tap the spoon, creating your own "natural" snowfall. You might also try dropping some leaves on top of the snow. They might land just where you want them.

To start your drawing, you can begin on your good sheet of paper, or you can work out the drawing first on a piece of tracing

Winter Leaves Brenda Shears

Winter Leaves, 18"x22", Wolff's pencil on Whatman paper. Collection of Brenda Shears.

Drawing Pencil Powder

Brush white soap powder into little hills and valleys to form natural-looking snow.

Winter Leaves, 18"x22", Wolff's pencil on Whatman paper. Collection of Brenda Shears.

Brush white soap powder into little hills and valleys to form natural-looking snow.

Arrange your leaves into a pleasing composition, then sprinkle a little powder over them for a snowfall effect.

paper. If you choose the latter, you then transfer the contour sketch to your working sheet and start shading. The beauty of using tracing paper is that if you want to make changes, you can lay a clean sheet of tracing paper over what you have and redo the section or sections you wish to change.

The contour drawing (right) was drawn extra dark so that you could see the line. Normally I keep the line light and let the various tones hold the edge. Keep your preliminary sketch light to avoid that hard-outline look.

Once you've transferred the sketch to your working sheet, lightly add the main lines to the leaf. You do not have to include every line, just the center line with the larger offshoots. The rest you will simulate with your rendering. Pick out the lightest leaf, and with an H or HB graphite pencil, put in an overall tone to the leaf. Come back again with the same pencil, adding ripples and veins. With the next degree of graphite, add more definition and darks. Remember, you can lift tone with your kneaded eraser.

After you finish one leaf, use the circular method to put a light tone on all leaves to guide you as you add additional tones to make one leaf darker, one leaf recede, and another come forward. Add a few holes or mold marks, but keep it simple; you just want to give the leaves a touch of reality.

Make the snow with light circular and wiggly lines, adding the dark shadows last.

Remember to work your darks against lights and lights against darks. Use a sharp point to get more control of the marks you put on the paper, and keep a sheet of paper under your hand as you work to prevent smearing.

Charcoal Smear Sheets
You can work out your contour drawing on tracing paper, then transfer it to your good drawing paper when you're satisfied with it.
Leaf Pencil Drawings
Winter Leaves II, 18" x 22", graphite pencil on Whatman paper.
Graphite Leaves Study

Country Marker, 22"x30", charcoal on Japanese (Misumi) paper.

Draw Charcoal Grass


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  • june
    How to draw a cartoon hill with snow and basic shape?
    8 years ago
  • stephanie
    How to draw tone on a leaf?
    4 years ago
  • morgan
    How to make a snowfall nature drawing?
    3 years ago

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