Place your desk lamp to the left and above your drawing surface. (My lamp is the cellphone-looking thing in the upper left corner.)
The first and most important part of drawing something is really looking at it. Look at the architecture of your leaf. Many leaves have a main mid-rib, like the leaf on the left, below. Some have multiple ribs coming out of the stem, like the leaf on the right, below. If your leaf is like the one on the left, look at the smaller veins that come out of the mid-rib. Are they straight or do they wind around a bit as they get closer to the edge of the leaf? Are they evenly spaced? Notice how they are stronger closer to the mid-rib and get thinner as they get closer to the edge of the leaf. Now look at the edge of the leaf. Is it smooth? Is there a texture to the edge?
Now you're ready to draw!
The first step is to LIGHTLY draw the mid-rib. Here's how to hold your pencil to get as light of a line as possible. Hold it in the middle and relatively loosely. Keep your point sharpened. You'll be drawing the right side of the mid-rib.
Here's the first bit of your drawing, the mid-rib. Yes, right now, it's just a line.
Next you're going to LIGHTLY draw the outline of the leaf. It doesn't need to be a single, perfect line. Don't worry about the texture of the edge of your leaf yet. If you use many soft lines and then when you feel you're happy with the shape, you can slowly darken the line.
If there is texture to the edge of your leaf, add it now. Take your time. You don't need to draw this in one sitting. Leave the first sketch lines. I recommend you suggest what the texture is rather than show exactly what each little point looks like. This is where we start thinking about the differences between art and scientific illustration. We're trying to get a feeling across rather than just information. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to make this as similar as possible to your leaf, but the more important thing is to be here with the leaf and enjoy this moment.
Now we're going to add in the veins. Start with lightly drawing in the left side of your mid-rib. Often, the mid-rib is very light in color so there's a bit of pigment or shadow on either side of it. Veins are different for every leaf, but there are some things to notice. Many leaves' veins will thin out as they get closer to the edge of the leaf. Your lamp is to the upper left of your drawing to give you a standard lighting source. If your leaf is fairly flat, you'll see shadows to the left of and below pieces that stick out like the mid-rib and the veins. Start out adding them softly. When you're happy with their placement, you can darken them a little. We'll be shading our leaves next, so don't feel like you need to press hard on the veins. We'll be going over them several times.
Now we're going to start shading. Again, we'll be using a very light touch. We'll be moving our pencils in continuous ovals, slowly going over each section. When you shade using the oval method, it puts your brain into a meditative mode. I like to save up my shading and do it all at once so I get the most benefit from the session. Here's a photo of what the oval shading looks like. I took a video but it's not downloading. If I can get it to download, I'll add it.
Here's why we slowly build up layers: in the drawing below, this is a side-view of what paper looks like times about a million. When we slowly and lightly add layers,we fill in the pores of the paper and you get a lovely glow to your drawing. If you press hard, you will knock down those bits that are standing up and you'll get a shine without the glowing dimension.
So now how to shade? I always start with the areas that will be the darkest when I'm finished, just so if my hand isn't behaving as subtly as I'd like, I haven't gone too heavy over an area that I'm planning on keeping lighter. Here's the first layer of shading I did on my leaf. I focused on the right side of the mid-rib and the area under the veins on the right side of the leaf. The left side will get a similar but minimalized treatment. Overall, the right side of the leaf will be a bit darker than the left side.
Here's the second pass of shading. I added shadow to the left side and around the edges. Continue to use a light hand as you shade.
Now do the overall shading. Go over everything lightly, adding a slight pressure for the areas you want to be darker. This is the part where you will convey emotion to your viewer. Let out what you're feeling. Let the texture of the paper show through. Draw many leaves. Challenge yourself to a certain number of leaves per day or week or month. A year and a half ago I challenged myself to draw 100 leaves in 100 days. I did it and I learned so much about leaves, drawing, and myself. I highly recommend a self-challenge. You will draw better the more you draw.
This is after three layers. I'll probably do a couple more. I like to make the shading more dramatic than it actually is, so I'll work on deepening the shadows. Play around with yours and see what you like.
Please share what you've drawn below or on Facebook. Ask me all the questions. We're all in this together!