4 Tips for Drawing Twists, Rolls, & Folds

Purple passion flower with leaves (top), passion fruit whole with leaf (middle), passion fruit open with seeds inside (bottom)
Passion Flower & Fruit by Wendy Hollender


To capture 3D forms on a 2D surface, we use light and shadows to create the illusion of depth. This can be tricky, but never fear! We are here to help.

4 Tips on Twists, Rolls, and Folds


Rolling ribbons practice by Wendy Hollender with notes to practice getting really dark for contrast
Rolling Ribbons Practice by Wendy Hollender


1. Practice with simple models.

Find out how much fun it can be to create a convincing illusion. Start with simple models to build your understanding of how light falls on the form. Once you fully grasp how to capture the light on the simple model, you have the foundation upon which to build your twisting, rolling, folding, curling botanical portraits. 

In this workshop recording, we practiced drawing opaque ribbon with wire to understand the simple form before tackling our curling botanical subjects. Learn more & purchase here.


(right) folded strappy leaf, (left) basic outline of folded leaf with green front curve, blue back curve, and red middle vein



Grab a ziplock bag*, and cut out clear plastic models of leaves. Use 3 different colored markers (permanent, ex. sharpies) to draw the left margin one color (ex. blue), the right margin another color (ex. green), and the center vein a third color (ex. red).

*Paper or other materials can work also, but it’s best if the material is transparent so you can see exactly what’s in front of you.


Progress steps to Magnolia Grandiflora Leaf by Wendy Hollender
Steps to Magnolia Grandiflora Leaf by Wendy Hollender


This is a great way to visualize what’s happening when drawing parts of the leaf that “disappear” behind the parts that are in front.


Scanned pages from “Botanique et Ornement” by Pierre Victor Galland (1850s)


2. Curls = Cylinders

When toning, it’s easiest to think of most curls as simple cylinders.


curling leaf by Wendy Hollender (left top), toilet paper roll uncurling (right top), paper towel cardboard tube (bottom)
Curling leaf by Wendy Hollender



Practice with an empty paper towel* roll. Using our usual consistent light source (45 degrees from the upper left), notice what happens to light and shadow when you change the cylinder’s position and angle. (Click here for free light source tips.)

*Any cylinder-shaped object will work, but with a paper towel or toilet paper roll, you can see how light falls on the whole cylinder and then unravel the roll to see the differences on the curl.


amaryllis leaf and closed bud colored pencil drawing by Wendy Hollender
Amaryllis leaf & closed bud by Wendy Hollender


3. Avoid this common mistake.

Avoid the common mistake of drawing the tangent line of a fold as a curved line. This line is generally straight or roughly v shaped, depending on how flat your leaf is.


Red Nectar Flower by Wendy Hollender


4. Don’t forget edges!

TIP: Leaving the front edge of a leaf or petal a lighter value can help to show its thickness.

Thanks for reading! 


Want to learn more?

Watch the RECORDING of our Twists, Rolls, & Folds Zoom Drawing Workshop, or try one of our online courses (FREE for your first week!).

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