The intricacies and beauty found in nature are hard for artists of any age to replicate. Through some simple color washes and careful placement this easy leaf printing process creates some of the most intricate and interesting artwork that we have made in ages.
I love that reproducing nature’s details is not left to technical drawing skill. Nature already did the hard work for you. This leaf printing process can just as easily be enjoyed by a preschooler as an accomplished adult artist.
Get out those art supplies…
You also need some decently heavy paper, bonus points if it’s watercolor paper. Working on nice paper is such an advantage and it doesn’t have to be expensive. A student grade watercolor pad costs less than a couple of coffees and will last through many projects!
Watercolor paper has a little texture to it. We’re going to be using lots of water and color and copy paper will just not hold up this time.
Leaf printing requires leaves of course…
These leaves are the main attraction in this leaf printing activity. You don’t want leaves that are dry and crunchy. They should be pliable and able to lay somewhat flat. I used fern fronds and leaves from our Japanese maple tree because they have such pretty shapes. Experiment.
Painting this watercolor wash in which to lay the leaves is a quick and spontaneous process. If you are slow and careful the color will dry too quickly and you’re outta’ luck.
First, take a clean brush and plain water and spread some water around. You can go clear to the edges or make an interesting splotchy shape. The color will stay within the borders of the water.
Add color. This should be fun and quick. Splotches of colors, drips, grand flourishes; any way to quickly get lots of pigment onto your paper will do.
And the leaf printing….
While the paint is still very wet lay the leaves down in the paint. Leaves may overlap or go off the page. I even tore some of my fern fronds into pieces before laying them down.
Once leaves were down I plopped down some more color by loading my brush with color and squeezing it with my fingers. I did this in places I wanted to emphasize with extra color or places that looked as if they were to dry for the leaves to “stick.”
Patience is not my virtue…
These babies take a looooong time to dry. Because we used so much water and because there are leaves stacked on our artwork this took forever. I came home from a ball game and eagerly ripped leaves off of one painting only to discover pools of color beneath the leaf.
The leaves must stay in the watercolor till it’s completely dry in order to capture all of their awesome details. I ended up leaving mine to dry overnight. This was hard, but I managed.
This picture illustrates the difference between using liquid watercolor and dry cake watercolor. I’m a big fan of the “use what you have” philosophy. I cook that way, I make art that way, and I parent that way. You can see that both types of paint produce leaf prints totally worth trying out.
It is worth noting that when using the liquid watercolors I did dilute them for the original watercolor wash but dropped some pure color onto the page after the leaves were down. Experiment with what works for you.
The end or a new beginning…
Not to wax all philosophical on you but once you take the leaves off you have a choice; is your artwork done or is the beginning of something else? As beautiful as this leaf printing is by itself I see so many possibilities. Pen and ink on top of these watercolor leaf prints is at the top of my list to try.
Other art projects using leaves…
If your kiddos really got into this leaf printing process check out these other art ideas using leaves.
Use real leaves and a few simple household ingredients to whip up a batch of air dry clay and make these unique clay leaf bowls.
This magic leaf rubbing project is a simple twist in the old favorite leaf rubbing project we all did as kids!
Learn to draw a simple leaf and then take that drawing to the next level with this glue and chalk process! This one is so graphic and pretty!
Who says you need fancy supplies for making great art? Make detailed leaf prints using just washable markers!
Use watercolor paint and leaves to explore the idea of mandla making!