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 create your next plant artwork.
The most important thing for your plant drawing is a good reference. In the best case, 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 closely.
As an alternative to a living plant, you can also use a photo as a reference. This has the advantage that the photo is already two-dimensional like your later drawing. However, it is always best to start from a living plant, as important information can be lost in a photo and you can only work with what you see in it.
Before you start, you should 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 colors you need for your plant in advance. I would also recommend trying out the color tones on a separate paper and also see how the colors behave with each other when you paint over them.
Also use good drawing paper and possibly an eraser.
Just as with drawing, you should start with a pencil sketch when painting. Choose suitable watercolor paints for your plant in advance, thinking not only about green, but also about accompanying colors such as yellow, red or blue. Look closely at your plant when choosing colors to make the best decision.
You will also need different brushes for different purposes: a small round brush, a large round brush, and possibly a flat brush. Be sure to use watercolor paper for your watercolor painting, otherwise the paint could bleed through to the paper and the whole painting could get wavy.
In most cases, the leaves are the biggest challenge when drawing a plant, which is why we should always get a good reference to help us.
A reference is so important precisely because we often only think of a green surface when thinking about a leaf. It is difficult to remember the exact nature of the leaves if you have not studied plants intensively.
In addition to the reference, it can’t hurt if we also take a closer look at some basic facts about leaf shapes and leaf colors.
Some plants like the Monstera adansonii or parlor palm are not too much of enticing references to draw at first glance. The complicated foliage can completely confuse you, as you can’t seem to find a starting point.
However, there is a very simple trick to draw such leaves. All we have to do is imagine simplified shapes for the respective leaves like circles, hearts or arrows. If we start our sketch this way, we can elaborate these shapes in the next step.
No matter if we create our artwork with watercolors, colored pencils or other paints: To portray a plant convincingly it is important to choose its hues correctly.
Green is not just green, because 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, and only then work on important details of each leaf.
In my case, I start by drawing hearts. Are they all in the right place? Am I really 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. In addition to 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 implement.
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 implement this step. In this 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 the leaves is represented by brightnesses and darks. In the case of the Monstera deliciosa, shadows stand out along the leaf veins, the edges, or in the upper part of the leaves. To depict this convincingly, I would recommend working on all the shadows of a leaf in one go. If you focus on the areas individually and don’t see the leaf as a whole, it can look unnatural and strange quite quickly.
This step takes time no matter what material you are working with. Therefore, also take the time that the image needs and try not to rush.
If you’re still looking for some inspiration, here are some examples of different plants painted with watercolor.