Nature is a source of inspiration for artists. From the rays of sunlight illuminating the branches of a tree, to butterflies resting upon a delicate flower petal, many people find drawing inspiration in the great outdoors. 

But before you can create a botanical illustration of your own, it’s a good idea to hone your ability to draw leaves. Doing so will give your plant drawings more depth, and bring your illustrations to life. 

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How to Draw a Realistic Leaf

Spend a bit of time outdoors and you’ll quickly realize that no two leaves are identical—even those from the same tree. But the tip, margin, petiole or stalk, lamina, midrib, and veins are all common leaf structures. Familiarizing yourself with these details can help you illustrate like a pro.  

Step 1: Gather Inspiration

Whether you use leaves you’ve collected, photos you’ve taken, or images you’ve found online, a visual reference can spark ideas for your drawings. Study the leaves closely and note the details and features that make each one unique. 

Step 2: Create an Outline

Use a pencil to create an outline of the leaf. Start on one side and then move on to the other, striving for balance and symmetry, not perfection. Put a tiny dot in the middle of the base, and then draw a line going downward for the stalk. Keep your eraser close by, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go.

A pencil-drawn outline of a leaf on a sheet of white paper. A hand is partially visible in the lower right corner of the photo.
Source: Still from Skillshare class How to Draw Leaves | Ink Illustration by Suzanne Kurilla
Create an outline to make drawing leaves easier.

Step 3: Add the Details 

From the leaves or images of leaves you’ve gathered, you’ll notice that they have a central vein called the midrib and smaller veins running diagonally outwards. Consider how to incorporate these shapes and textures into your drawing, and explore the impact of varied line shapes and weights. 

A leaf is being drawn using a pencil on a sheet of white paper, and all the veins have been filled in. 
Source: Still from Skillshare class How to Draw Leaves | Ink Illustration by Suzanne Kurilla
Draw big and small veins on a leaf.

Pro tip: Who says you can’t use a bit of imagination when drawing leaves? One easy drawing idea is patterned leaves, where you can fill in the outline of a leaf with any sort of pattern you like. From stars to stripes and everything in between, unleash your creative side and experiment with wild designs. 

Step 4: Redraw With Ink

Trace over your previous outline using a pen (or a brush if you’ve got steady hands). Larger numbers will give you thicker lines, so try a 0.5 or 0.7 mm pen for the outline and a 0.1 or 0.2 mm fine tip for the details. Once you’re done, erase the pencil marks and you’re ready to add some color. 

Five different leaf outlines on a sheet of white paper. The first leaf has been traced using a pen, the second leaf is being traced, and the remaining three have yet to be traced.
Source: Still from Skillshare class Basic Illustration: Flower, Leaves, and Branches by Canava
Use a pen to ink over a pencil drawing of a leaf

What Features Make a Leaf Easy to Draw? 

Leaves have either a simple or compound structure. This tells you whether the leaf has a single blade or multiple blades attached to its stem, known as a petiole. Try opting for leaves that are directly across from one another on a twig, with smooth edges and an even leaf base. 

Ivy Leaves 

As evergreen, woody vines, ivy leaves are known to creep and climb on trees, rocks, buildings, and any other structures they can lay their stems on.  Practice with these simple shapes and well-defined veins as you gain confidence with your own nature illustrations.

Bright green ivy leaves featuring prominent veins. Each leaf is attached to a branch of the plant.
Source: Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay
Ivy leaves have a simple structure and well-defined veins 

Palm Leaves 

Elongated and broad in shape, palm leaves have feather-like leaves that can make anything from a clacking noise to a frenzied rattle in the wind. To illustrate this tropical leaf, draw a thin rectangle with a pointy tip for the stalk, and then add rows of leaves on both sides. 

A selection of deep green palm leaves lying on top of one another in multiple directions.
Source: Photo by Su San Lee on Unsplash
Palm leaves are made up on many separate, feather-like leaves

Practice Drawing Leaves Through the Seasons

Among winter’s naked branches, the pointed needles of firs and evergreens peek out from the snow, and carry a sharp, sweet, and refreshing scent. The advent of spring brings abundance, with sprouting seeds and blooming flowers, including golden, sun-kissed daffodils. 

As you watch the deep-green hues of willow leaves gradually turn bonfire-red and crispy in the fall, keep practicing your leaf drawing techniques and you’ll soon be creating spectacular outdoor sceneries.

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Written by:

Suphanida Thakral