Tips on how to create beautiful plant artwork
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How often do you take the time to appreciate the natural beauty around you? Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can still enjoy the quiet activity of drawing and painting plants. In this tutorial, I’ll share helpful tips and provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to paint and draw plants.
First, we’ll take a look at the basics of what you need to paint and draw plants (pencils, paints, brushes, paper, etc.). Then we’ll go into the general characteristics of plants and leaves. You should be able to put what you’ve learned into practice and easily your next plant artwork.
The most important thing for your plant drawing is a good reference. Use a houseplant that you can place in front of you, or go outside and find a plant that you want to paint or draw. This way you have the real plant as a reference in front of you and can take your time to examine it.
Instead of using a living plant as a reference, you can use a photo instead. One advantage of using a photo is that it is already two-dimensional, just like your final drawing will be. But, it’s always best to start with a living plant since important information can be lost in a photo, and you can only work with what you see in it.
Decide whether you want to draw only with pencils or also with colored pencils, for example. For the sketch of your plant, use a hard pencil like a 2H. These lines will disappear under the later drawing.
If you decide to draw with colored pencils, pick out the colors you need for your plant in advance. I recommend trying out the colors on a separate paper to see how the colors work with each other.
Also, use good drawing paper and an eraser if needed.
When painting, begin with a pencil sketch, just like when drawing. Before you begin, choose suitable watercolor paints for your plant. Take into consideration not just shades of green, but also accompanying colors such as yellow, red, or blue. Study your plant to ensure the best color choices.
For your painting, different watercolor brushes will be necessary. Depending on the plant, a small round brush, a large round brush, or a flat brush can come in handy. Using watercolor paper is a must. This way, you avoid paint bleed-through and your paper does not become wavy.
When drawing a plant, the leaves can often pose the biggest challenge. This is why it’s important to have a good reference to guide you.
A reference is especially crucial because we tend to only think of a leaf as a simple green surface. Without the intensive study of plants, it can be difficult to recall the intricate details of a leaf.
It’s helpful to review some basic facts about leaf shapes and colors to further enhance your drawing skills.
At first glance, plants such as the Monstera adansonii or parlor palm may not seem like the most enticing references to draw. The intricate foliage can be overwhelming, leaving you unsure of where to begin.
But, there is a very simple trick to drawing such leaves. All we have to do is imagine simplified shapes for them like circles, hearts or arrows. If we start our sketch this way, we can elaborate on these shapes in the next step.
No matter if we create our artwork with watercolors, colored pencils, or other paints: To portray a plant it is important to choose the right hues.
Green is not just green, as some plants can have yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, and even blue undertones. This undertone in turn affects the green more or less depending on the plant.
In some plants, characteristic patterns are also added. A Scindapsus pictus has shimmering silver spots, while a Syngonium podophyllum has fine, pixel-like coloring along the edges of its leaves.
Are you ready for an exercise? Now that you know all the basics, let’s work on a plant drawing. Grab a plant and decide which tool you want to work with. I choose to paint my Monstera deliciosa with watercolor.
Whether you decide to paint or draw, every artwork should start with a sketch.
Draw all the leaves of your plant in a simplified form first. Only then work on the important details of each leaf.
In my case, I start by drawing hearts. Are they all in the right place? Am I looking at all the hearts from the front or are some leaning to the side? In this step, it’s normal to keep checking the rough sketch and correcting it if necessary.
Once you are satisfied with your rough sketch, work out the individual leaves in more detail. Besides the outlines, features such as leaf veins may be important, as well as the texture of the petioles.
Finally, your sketch should be a solid basis for all further steps and be final. Corrections in later steps will not be easy to put in place.
My tip when painting and drawing plants: Define a base color that you apply to the entire leaf. This first layer of color should not be applied opaque so that wide layers of color can be applied over it. Also, this shade will show through the areas that we will leave out later, for example, leaf veins.
If you work only with pencils, you do not need to take this step. In your case, it’s worth working from light to dark, drawing all the light areas first with a hard pencil (a 4H, for example).
In my case, I use a mixture of Helio Green and Yellow Ochre, which I apply transparently to each leaf, covering the entire area.
Now comes the most important, but also the most fun part. For starters, feel free to pick a leaf that sits a little further in the background. If you don’t get it perfect the first time, it won’t stand out as much.
My biggest challenge in this watercolor painting was mixing the same shade over and over again. To do this, I took a separate piece of watercolor paper and always painted a test stroke in advance.
The structure of a leaf is defined by the interplay of light and shadow. For example, in the case of the Monstera deliciosa, shadows are prominent along the leaf veins, edges, and upper portions. To capture these nuances, it’s recommended to work on all the shadows of a leaf in one go. Focusing on individual areas may cause the leaf to appear unnatural and strange if not viewed as a whole.
This step takes time no matter what material you are working with. Thus, take the time that the artwork needs and try not to rush.
If you’re still looking for some inspiration, here are some examples of different plants painted with watercolor.