Introduction: Paint Layered Leaves in Acrylic

About: There is something so satisfying about creating adorable projects, even more so if they are useful. Anything that can magnify beauty in this life is a worthwhile pursuit.

When I was working on this painting, several people happened to see it in various stages. The stage that seemed to alarm observers most were when I was prepping for the top layers of leaves. This Instructable is intended to help anyone who may want to see how to “lighten” up parts of a dark painting without freaking out about ruining it. This technique adds depth and character to paintings.

This is not a full acrylic painting tutorial. This is for helping people who would like to create more interest in their paintings through layers.


1. Canvas

2. Decent quality acrylic paints (watered down ones will have great difficulty with this technique.)

3. Paint brushes of desired sizes

4. painting palette

5. water to clean brushes (I use two so one can be the “dirty” one, and the “clean” one for the final rinse)

6. absorbent rag or paper towel

7. Preferably some kind of easel or something stable to prop the paining up on

8. At least one reference photo to work from (Two or more photos works best though)

Step 1: Choosing Which Color to Paint for the “Undercoating”

The first Photo is of my main reference photo, the second is of the first step to get the palest outer layer of leaves.

When I started this painting, I loved the contrast of the reference photo to the butterfly (it is not a moth, but a Firey Skipper butterfly.)

Starting with the background, things seemed pretty good, then I began adding in the purple flowers and it began to look way too dark on the right side.

I did a few layers of lighter leaves, but the paint was darkened underneath by the super dark layers behind them.

That is when I got brave. And bold.

I outlined the shapes desired of the topmost layer of leaves with yellow chalk until I felt comfortable with the final outlines.

Then painted in a pale buttery yellow to warm up beneath the leaves a bit. The undercolor matters a lot. White would have given them a washed out look. The excess chalk wiped off easily when the acrylic was dry.

For example before one would even want to start a portrait of a human, the skin parts (at least) should be under painted a certain green. This will give the upper layers the very most realistic skin tone possible. This is for another Instructable another time about underpaintings.

Step 2: Adding Shading on Top of the Base

The next step is to begin adding shading on top of the base. In short, lightening parts of the leaves until they begin to look like leaves again. This is when multiple reference photos really help.

Only the main inspiration photo is shown in this Instructable. Nevertheless, many photos where referenced for all parts of this painting including the leaves.

Step 3: Finishing Touches

Once the shading is complete on the backround, begin on the main focal point, which in this case is the butterfly. The original butterfly looked too much like a moth (although a very pretty one), so I attempted to add in some color to it. Many reference photos later, still not completely satisfied with the butterfly, but the leaves now look good, so :)

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