Make the Last of Autumn’s Leaves Last Forever with Leaf Printing

Paint a leaf then press on artist's paper to make a leaf print.A sudden windstorm has, by this writing, blown all the rest of my trees’ leaves into the yard for raking, but just the day before it hit, I spent a happy afternoon picking still-fresh leaves from low branches all over my yard and then turned them into art.

Hung on the walls inside my house, perhaps these leaf prints will help me hang on through the winter. At least, especially in early February, they will remind me that seasons do exist besides winter.

And sometimes, especially in early February, that’s all the hope that you can ask for.

Leaf prints can be made with any material from watercolors to fabric paint, and on any surface from artist’s papers to your walls. There are as many methods as there are leaves, but here’s a good, simple, effective technique for getting started:

To make a leaf print, you will need:

  • Leaves. You can use fresh, supple leaves, or you can press your leaves in a leaf press and use them when they’re bone dry and perfectly flat.
  • Paint. If you’re a screenprinter, you can use the inks and tools of that trade. However, artist’s acrylic paints, with a paintbrush for application, also work very well. Depending on the effect that you want, you may or may not want to thin your paint.
  • Paintbrush
  • Newspaper or other covering for your work surface
  • Your fingers. Your fingers are the most sensitive, and thus best, printing tool, but if you don’t want paint on them, feel free to wear rubber or latex gloves.
  • Paper. Any professional artist’s papers, especially canvas or Bristol board, will work very well for this project.

Leaf print done in purple acrylic on Bristol board1. Using the paintbrush, spread a very thin layer of paint all over the surface of your leaf. Feel free to blend colors, and also feel free to experiment. A bristle paintbrush, for instance, will leave some brush marks on the final print, which can look as if you painted your leaf freehand (using a leaf, perhaps?). A sponge brush, however, will apply more smoothly and leave a more accurate print of the leaf.

2. Smoothly press the leaf, paint side down, onto the surface of your paper. Using your fingers, press evenly over all surfaces of the leaf, paying special attention to the edges of the leaf and the veins, both spots that may not lie flat against the paper all on their own.

3. Let dry. If you’re working on canvas or on an object, you may want to seal your work. If you’re using fabric paint on something washable, then don’t forget to heat-set the paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Are you, too, the type to hang on to the growing season, or are you already embracing winter? If it’s the latter, I could use some inspiration!

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