Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Paint Abstract Autumn Leaves

This painting is part of an abstract exercise you can do with your students (Grade 4 and up).  Sorry for the pictures but blogger is not letting me enlarge the pictures in the procedure section of this post. Please click on any of them to see larger.

It is a great lesson to practice looking at and painting negative shapes.

In this painting the background gradually gets lighter enabling you to lift out some leaf shapes at the bottom. 

This one is a bit easier, no variation in the background.

I'm going to give you the complete
 "How To" , but first let me introduce this week's giveaway.

"Understanding Art: Impressionism" is a DVD series from my friends at Acorn Media.  It features my favorite art critic Waldemar Januszczak (click on his name for a preview of his style).  Mr. Januszczak is not your "stuffy" art historian.  He approaches his documentaries with enthusasim and humour.  Transporting you back to the 19th century, showing you the exact locations of many Impressionist paintings, describing the conditions, personalities, and what the artists had to go through to create their art.

This gives you a deeper understanding of what Impressionism is all about, why it came about, and you will never look at a Monet, Renior, etc. the same again.  Great if you are teaching this to your class.  I often get asked " how do I explain Impressionism to kids".

This DVD series includes 4 one hour episodes and 2 bonus programs on Manet (90 minutes) and van Gogh (146 min). 

There is some nudity so you need to preview before showing to a class,  but overall I found this series very entertaining as well as very informative, not something you expect in an art history series.  My kids enjoyed it as well.  My 14 yr old was thrilled when she found out I was reviewing this series.  We had caught a few episodes of Mr. Januszczak's Baroque series on the Knowledge Channel at the cabin and the kids were hooked. Unfortunately that one is not currently available for sale in North America, fingers crossed it will be soon.

If you are interested in winning your own copy of this series check out the full details at the end of this post.

Now back to our abstract exercise.


- watercolor paper or heavy sketch paper
- pencil and eraser
- disk tempera or watercolor paints in Fall colours
- plastic kitchen wrap, (Saran type wrap)
- salt
- art boards, painter's masking tape
- black acrylic or liquid tempera

Take your paper and tape down to your art board with the painter's masking tape.

Gather your materials.

Paint a mottled background using Fall colours.

You can place some plastic wrap on it before it dries, smooshing a bit, to get some nice texture.  Leave plastic wrap on until it dries.

You can also shake a little salt on for the salt effect if you wish.

Let your background dry.

The next step is to make a good sketch on your now dry background paper.  You want branches and leaves.  Have some overlapping and crossing.  You need more than you think you do because, once you start painting in the darks you realize "I really should have added more".

Click on this picture to see larger.

Take some brown disk tempera or watercolor.  You want a watery mix as you are just doing a glaze.

Apply this glaze to all the leaves and branches that are behind other leaves and branches.  This recedes them, giving them a touch of shadow adding that depth to your picture.

You can also add in a few lines to make the veins of the leaves that are in the forefront.

Now for the easier version take some black acrylic or black liquid tempera paint and start painting in all the negative spaces, places where there are no leaves or branches.

For this more challenging version start painting in the background with black watercolor or disk tempera.  Continue to add layers to those areas where you want lots of dark.  The background is only lightly coloured near the bottom as it sort of fades out.

You can lift out a few leaves in that faded background by painting them in with plain water and drying your brush on a paper towel after each pass.  This lifts the colour.

Finally you can add a few splatters.

That's it.  Let dry, take off the tape and sign and title.

On to the giveaway.  If you are interested in winning your own copy of the DVD series, "Understanding Art: Impressionism" with Waldemar Januszczak,   a $59.99 value from Acorn Media,  please enter in one of the following ways:

- leave me a comment on this post
- like or leave a comment for this post on my Facebook page
- send me an email at

Canadian or US residents only please.

You have until 11:59pm on Thursday Sept 27th/12 and I will make the draw on Friday Sept 28th/12.

Good Luck everyone.

Disclaimer:  Review and Giveaway copy were provided by Acorn Media.  The views and opinions expressed are my own.


  1. absolutely love to have this DVD series!

  2. Not in the running for the DVD :( as I'm in Australia, but love the leaf tutorial, thanks so much :)

  3. Would enjoy this DVD!
    7for20 at gmail dot com

  4. I love this activity. I came across your blog a few days ago. What an absolute treasure trove of activities for kids and adults alike. Thank you!

    - Cindy, NSW

  5. PS: My comment was not for the competition, as I'm not from the US or Canada. I put the NSW in, but realised you may not know what it is ( my Aussie state). Just letting you know not to put me in the comp.

    Thanks again!

    - Cindy

  6. Hello, I have been following your blog for a while and have learned alot from you and gathered many ideas for teaching. Thank you so much for sharing all your stuff. I would love to win the DVD series!

  7. Beautiful project! I would love to win the dvd. I'm starting to teach a home school coop art class and would love some more resources.


  8. Love the leaf project and I think it would work with watercolors as well. I would love the DVD and thank you for the opportunity!

  9. The autumn leaves are awesome! So beautiful. ...and yes, I would love to win the teaching DVD set!

  10. Hi Gail! I have you on my google reader and I always look forward to your blog. I teach art to grades 4-8. Would love to win the DVDs! Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  11. My boys saw your post today of autumn leaves and asked if we could star painting right away! They love your art lessons, and I love how detailed everything is for those of us guiding the way! (Homeschooling mom of 5...) We would be thrilled to win a copy of Understanding Art! Thanks!

  12. I've so enjoyed the art with trees/leaves. I have such an affinity with them or something. I'm drawn to everything trees. So thank you. I have always wanted to learn to watercolor paint because I like the muted flow of of these days I'll take the plunge. This project is probably going to be my first!

  13. Your leaf project is really a good one! The results are beautiful and timely. Thank you!

  14. Love this project! I can do this or love trying to. Would also love to have the DVD!! Thank you so much for caring about the art our children (and me!) love to do.

  15. Great project! I can't wait to try this project with my grade 8 or 9/10 art classes. Would love to win the DVD set.
    Thanks for all the great art postings

  16. oh i love your site,
    i'm always looking for new things to do with!
    great site! congratulations

  17. Great project! I would LOVE to win the DVD series as my students are actually interested in some art history and all of my resources are outdated. Plus, I love Impressionism! Thanks so much!

  18. Hi,
    All your tutorials are so beautiful. I would in future do these with my son who is just 2 yrs old. Also I'm a budding self-taught artist , would surely love to win your DVD. Would surely help me. Thanks for the oppurtunity.

  19. I love this project perfect timing to do at school. I would love to win dvd my students and I would learn so much.

  20. A Waldemar DVD would be perfect for a Brit like me living in Saskatoon, his presenting style and his speech pattern is so easy to listen to - much like David Attenborough! So engaging.
    As always your tutorials and visual walk through photos are wonderful. You are and have been for a very long time a great source of inspiration for me!

  21. This project is lovely. At the moment I am painting inside the house but as soon as I am finished my intention is to make a few pictures to brighten up the walls. Thank you for the lesson.

  22. Thank you for your continued generosity. I am going to try this class with my students in the Retirement Community, and the Puzzle Piece Trees with my Alzheimer's group.