A leaf is a beautiful symbol of nature and alternation of seasons. Some leaves have a simple shape that is so easy to draw; some demonstrate a very complex outline.
If you're wondering how to deal with those intricate shapes, this tutorial is just for you!
We’ll observe four examples of natural sophistication: a maple leaf, an oak leaf, a fig leaf, and a four-leaf clover.
What You Will Need
To complete this tutorial, you'll need the following equipment:
- an HB graphite pencil
- a 3B graphite pencil
- an eraser
- drawing paper
1. How to Draw a Maple Leaf
With an HB pencil, I draw the core line of the leaf and the extension for its petiole (a leaf’s stalk).
I mark the top and bottom borders of the leaf.
I draw six directional lines of the leaf’s veins. The core line is also a reference for the central vein (the midrib).
To design a maple leaf shape, we have to start with a framework.
I add two points on each side of the midrib. Then I create a shape that resembles an irregular rhombus; it connects the base of the leaf, its central tip, and two points in the upper part of the form.
I create two more shapes as we did in the previous step. The only difference is that the side shapes are joint with the central construction.
The sides of each shape are not equal, and this is done on purpose. A maple leaf has symmetrical features, but it always has some deviations or imperfections.
I draw two more shapes, following the same logic.
I add two notched elements on the bottom part of the leaf. They complete the core framework.
I draw the lobes of the central part of the leaf, starting with three of them…
… and then adding two more lobes slightly below.
Don’t be afraid to deviate from the initial framework; it is our reference and not a rigid restrictor.
I add five lobes of the next segment.
Some lobes are sharper and longer; the diversity is necessary when it comes to drawing natural forms.
I draw the lobes of the third segment.
The next two segments are relatively small. They have four pronounced lobes.
I refine the part of the leaf that is on the left side.
Now I draw the lobes of the fifth segment.
I refine the shapes of the lower, additional parts of the leaf. They usually have just one pronounced lobe each (less often, they have two).
I erase all the subsidiary lines, leaving just the contours of the maple leaf.
It’s time to draw the pattern of the secondary veins that are going from the primary veins to the sides. I start with the central vein, the midrib.
Some veins are longer and thicker; they usually go towards the lobes.
I add the secondary veins to all of the primary veins of the leaf.
I add the tertiary veins that are branching from the secondary veins; they are barely visible.
Don’t draw all the small elements; our task is to create just a hint at the details.
Let’s make our sketch more realistic. I add the hatching to the sides of the leaf, using the HB pencil.
I also darken the spaces between the primary veins and the veins themselves. Then I add some thickness to the petiole.
I add more hatches, making the leaf more contrasting.
I evaluate my drawing; it feels just a bit unnatural or maybe too perfect. To fix that, I add a pattern of semicircles and thick strokes, using the 3B graphite pencil.
Now the drawing looks like a fallen autumn leaf!
2. How to Draw an Oak Leaf
With the HB pencil, I draw the core line of the leaf (it will be the reference for the midrib) and mark its borders.
I draw an uneven shape that resembles an egg. This shape will help us to design the leaf.
I mark the borders of the leaf’s lobes. Oak leaves usually have a considerable asymmetry, so feel free to be as creative as you wish.
I refine the midrib and draw the secondary veins.
I work on the upper part of the leaf, outlining the petiole and drawing the first pair of lobes.
I draw three lobes on the left side. The lobes often have small additional curves that make the shapes unique and even more attractive.
I outline three lobes on the right side of the leaf.
I work on the bottom part of the oak leaf, adding three rounded lobes.
I draw the pattern of the tertiary veins; they are very light and relatively short.
With the HB pencil, I darken the veins and the areas between the lobes.
I apply a layer of light hatching, using the HB pencil, and shade the sides of the leaf.
The drawing is complete!
3. How to Draw a Fig Leaf
With the HB pencil, I draw the core line of the leaf and mark its borders, including the boundary between the stalk and the petiole.
I refine the shape of the petiole. I also add the first segment of the leaf—it has a peculiar form.
Fig leaves are symmetrical, so we’ll draw the left half first and then recreate it on the right side.
I draw the secondary vein and outline the second segment of the leaf, using an organic, uneven contour. This part is longer and bigger than the first one.
Pay attention to the sinus of the fig leaf; our task is to make it pronounced.
I draw the bottom segment of the fig leaf. It ends with a pointed tip.
I draw another part of the leaf, trying to make it as close to the existing one as I can. However, if you allow some imperfections, it won’t ruin your artwork.
I add several more pairs of secondary veins.
I draw a net of thin tertiary veins. This will add credibility to the sketch.
Fig leaves are relatively dark; their texture is smooth and velvety. To create an illusion of this texture, I apply soft strokes with the 3B pencil.
I start with one side of the leaf, darkening the central part and the sides. The midrib and the secondary veins of a fig leaf should remain light.
I apply the 3B soft pencil strokes to the sides of the blade, creating an illusion of small folds.
I continue adding soft graphite strokes. The transition of value in the drawing should be smooth.
4. How to Draw a Four-Leaf Clover
In this part of the tutorial, we’ll be working on a wonderful symbol of good luck: the four-leaf clover. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
I mark the central point of the shape and add two directional lines with the borders.
I draw a tear-shaped element of the first leaf…
... and then add the remaining leaves. Some elements may overlap the others.
I refine the shape of the leaves, making the angular dents. The shapes resemble hearts now.
I mark a pattern of the leaves; this detail will make the drawing more interesting and credible.
I erase the borders of the pattern—we need to keep it light and blurry. Then I add a subtle net of thin veins and darken the cores of each leaf.
I apply a light hatching to the leaves, using the HB graphite pencil. To fill the place of the pattern, I draw small semicircles.
I darken the leaf with soft strokes, using the 3B pencil. You can use a hatching or random scribbly strokes for that.
I increase the contrast even more, adding the 3B pencil strokes to the tips of the leaves and accenting the drop shadows from the neighboring leaves.
Your Drawings Are Complete
Congratulations—we’ve created four beautiful graphite pencil sketches! I hope you were inspired by the leaves and enjoyed the process of drawing.
For practice, I recommend that you try getting some real leaves (or other objects) and making your own sketches. It will help you to develop your observation skills and understand the principles of shading with graphite pencils much better.
Let your creative journey be fruitful and full of joy!