Draw a Leaf in 9 Simple Steps

Leaves (Hydrangea & Soloman’s Seal) by Wendy Hollender


When you create a botanical illustration showcasing a plant’s important parts, you are likely to face the challenge of drawing realistic green leaves. Though there are many different kinds of leaves, this tutorial focuses on how to draw a leaf with net veining (ex. rose, hibiscus, oak, hydrangea). 


If you want to draw a variety of leaf textures (fuzzy, matte, shiny, etc.) and learn how to mix beautiful natural greens, this Zoom workshop is for you! Click here to explore why you won’t want to miss this live workshop (starts Sunday, July 7, 2024!).

Learn More & Register Here


For now, these 9 steps will guide you through drawing the front of a leaf. Scroll to the end (or click here) for tips on drawing the back of a leaf.

9 Steps to a Simple Leaf with Net Veining


1. Select Live Subject

First choose your subject. Always draw from a real specimen! Communicating with the live plant on your table engages your physical senses – seeing how light and shadow interact with the form’s surface, feeling the texture, smelling the aroma, and tasting edible plants. 

Before you start drawing, take a moment to observe, absorb, and process the sensory information you’re receiving from nature. Connect with the plant, and begin to understand the basic shapes that you see and their relation to each other. Listen… with your eyes.

Photographs can only give us so much information (though they can be handy reference photos in case your subject wilts before you finish drawing!). Drawing only from a photograph can make your final product appear flat. Plus, you miss out on the physical experience of befriending the plant!



2. Light Source

Think of the planes of a leaf as two sides of an open book. When light hits these two planes, one side receives more light and the other side more shadow. If you tone your leaf using this concept, it will look dimensional, even though a leaf has very little thickness. 

Keep a thumbnail sketch nearby to remind you where to layer your shadows and where to keep the paper white for highlights. Learn more about light source here



3. Center Vein & Outside Edges

With a graphite pencil, lightly draw your leaf life-size. For the most accurate drawing, measure your subject with a see-through ruler. Learn more about how to measure precisely here.

Begin your drawing with the center vein, and then draw the outside edges of the leaf. Have an eraser handy to make adjustments until you’re satisfied with your outline.



4. Tone Leaf Planes

With a Dark Sepia colored pencil, use tones to depict the leaf planes, and then slowly add more and more detail indicating the secondary veins. Tone a light layer of Dark Sepia to get the leaf started, but don’t make it too dark at the beginning. You can always add more!



5. Shade Left – Dark to Light

With a Dark Sepia colored pencil, tone the left side of the leaf darker. Shade from dark to light, starting at the midvein and toning lighter toward the left edge of the leaf.

Add a little bit of tone next to the midvein on the right side of the leaf by leaving a light vein and then toning a bit toward the right side of the leaf.



6. Lightly Shade Right & Veins

With a Dark Sepia colored pencil, add tone to the right leaf edge, and tone lightly toward the center of the leaf along each secondary vein. This side of the leaf should not be as dark as the left side. 

Venation of leaves on the front is often slightly recessed. The mid-rib vein of the inside of the leaf is toned like a channel when magnified.

Veins are thicker and wider at the base and always get thinner toward the tip of the leaf. Because secondary veins usually branch out and disappear before the outside edges, be sure to make them smaller and less defined.



7. Green Watercolor Wash

Add a layer of green watercolor wash over the Dark Sepia pencil, gradating the wash to indicate the two sides of the leaf and making the left side darker. Paint a very light layer of green wash over the center vein as well.



8. Subtle Veining & Pillowing

To add subtle veining and the slight pillowing between the veins, layer colored pencils in green and more Dark Sepia. (Need help mixing and matching green? Check out this quick (and free!) color theory lesson.)

Remember to keep the veining subtle, irregular, and not too straight. Add a bit of embossing for the secondary veins (optional). Remember that veins of this kind don’t usually go all the way out to the leaf edges. They tend to branch off before the edges and get thinner and thinner until they disappear.



9. Evaluate & Refine

Look at your leaf and decide if you’ve gotten too literal with your veining. This happens often at the beginning. If you feel your veins look kind of like fish bones rather than subtle veins, don’t feel discouraged. 

Narrow the veins a bit, and make the color values closer in value by adding more watercolor on the veins. Draw another leaf, and try not to focus on the veins at all, but keep them really, really subtle. Click here to learn more about techniques for subtle veins.


Tips for Drawing the Back of a Leaf



The back of the leaf can be thought of as the outside of an open book. The inside and outside of the leaf are shaded oppositely because the light hits the angles reversed.



On the back of the leaf, the veining is slightly raised. The mid-rib vein on the back side of the leaf is raised and can be toned like a cylinder. Secondary veins are not as wide as the primary vein. Be sure to make them smaller and less defined.

Leaves often twist, roll, fold, or curl. Find helpful tips for drawing twists, rolls, and folds here.


Want to learn more?

If you want to draw a variety of leaf textures (fuzzy, matte, shiny, etc.) and learn how to mix beautiful natural greens, this Zoom workshop is for you! Click here to explore why you won’t want to miss this live workshop (starts Sunday, July 7, 2024!). Learn more & Register Here.


Learn how to draw leaves from different perspectives, and use watercolor and colored pencil to create three-dimensional forms with realistic details. Watch instructor demonstrations of various spring greens and learn some pro tips so your leaves will look as leafy as ever! Check out the RECORDING of our Zoom Drawing Workshop, Leafy Leaves.


For a quick video on drawing a basic leaf with net veining, check out this individual lesson.


For a quick video on drawing shiny and fuzzy leaves, check out this individual lesson.


For a quick video on drawing colorful leaves, check out this individual lesson.


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