Last Leaf

Before the torrential rains that stripped all the leaves from the trees in the back yard, I took a snap of the fig tree next door. Most of the leaves had already dropped off, but there were several left. Although the photograph doesn’t portray what I saw very well, I used it as a template for my watercolor today.

Digital Photo: Reference photo for watercolor - Last Leaf

Today’s watercolor experiment:

My vision was to contrast a single leaf among a tangle of branches.


I began with a sketch, as I normally do. In this case, I tried faithfully represent the branches as they are shown in a smaller edit of the photograph. If I would have attempted to represent the full frame of the photo, I would have required a much bigger canvas to work with.

Sketch: Last Leaf

Last Leaf – Sketch

I inked the pencil lines after finishing the sketch. The idea was to depict the branches in ink and erase the stray pencil marks.

Since I wanted the branches to stand out against the background, I covered the inked branches carefully with liquid latex (I found a bottle that hadn’t totally coagulated).

Sketch: Last Leaf - Sketch with Latex Resist

Last Leaf – Sketch with Latex Resist

With the branches protected, I felt free to paint in the background. I used a combination of shadow and phthalo greens to render a patchwork of foliage behind the tree. (I know that the background contradicts the notion of the ‘last leaf’, but I invoked my artistic license and forged ahead.)

With the predominant green color in the background, I used the reddish quinacridone nickel for the first layer of the tree trunks. I thought the juxtaposition of these complimentary colors would separate the trunks from the background. However, I did not care for the effect, so I overlaid the initial layer with Payne’s gray and neutral tint, mixing with titanium white for highlighted areas.

After peeling off the latex, I used a very small brush to paint the underside of the branches a dark color (neutral tint). I kept the upper parts unpainted and revisited them with gray composed of neutral tint with titanium white.

Below is the penultimate stage of the watercolor. I would like to continue painting until all the white spaces are covered, but I wanted to post this watercolor today.

Watercolor: Last Leaf and a Tangle of Branches

Last Leaf
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


The watercolor, as presented, holds up pretty well. Perhaps the background could be darker and the lonely yellow leaf could be better outlined.

I should add this to the list of watercolors on which I would like to do further work.

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