How to Paint on Leaves

Painted leafPainting on leaves is easy. The trick is to press them as quickly as possible to prevent them from curling up.

I found a perfect leaf on the sidewalk in front of our home one rainy November day. As soon as I got inside and out of my wet coat, I placed the leaf inside a catalog and placed a heavy book on top of the catalog to weight it down. After about 10 days I pulled it out and had a perfectly flat dry leaf, just begging for some art.

If you’ve ever been tempted to collect leaves for painting but weren’t sure how to proceed, here’s what you need to know to get started! 


How To Paint On Leaves

Preserve the Leaf Before Painting On it

Dried leaves can be quite delicate to work with so I sealed both sides before I began painting. I used watered down Elmer’s glue (PVA glue) for this project. This takes a bit of patience as you need two coats on each side, and each coat has to dry before proceeding to the next.

Alternative preservation methods:

  • Spray with acrylic craft sealer (I specify acrylic because I use acrylic paints. If you use oil paints you can choose any sealer recommended for your brand of oil paint)
  • Brush on varnish
  • Submerge in 1 part glycerin, 2 parts water for 3-4 days

Choose a Design That Suits The Leaf Shape

Maple leaves are highly cut — this made it tricky to paint the tree I wanted in the center and still retain a large portion across the bottom to resemble soil. If you have birch trees in your area you’ll have a much more flexible “canvas” for your design as birch leaves form a fairly solid oval.

Paint With a Light Touch

After all the work of preserving and preparing your leaf, you don’t want to rip it by painting with too much force. Select your softest brushes and definitely stay away from bristle brushes. If you like using stencils, apply the paint with a sponge rather than a stencil brush.

Display Your Beautiful Painted Leaf Behind Glass

Painted Autumn Leaf by Susan Wright-Boucher
Frame your painted leaf under glass to protect it.

I framed my painted leaf in a 9″ x 12″ wooden frame that came with glass. I really like the way it looks and because it’s behind glass, I don’t have to worry about it getting damaged.

Painted leaves look especially luscious when placed in a shadow box. You’ve probably seen shadow box picture frames in your local hobby store or dollar store — they look like a regular picture frame except they’re 2″ – 4″ deep. Again, I would make sure you get one with a glass front.

Are you thinking of trying this out? Or maybe you’ve done these before and you have tips for us… feel free to leave a comment.

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