Practice Method #1 - Sketching a Maple Leaf


How I Sketched My First Maple Leaf

For our first Practice Method, I wanted to revisit my Acer palmatum, Japanese Maple Leaf in graphite from last summer.  It was my first real botanical graphite piece and I was pleasantly amazed at how much I loved working on it.

To my surprise it took me way longer to complete it than I was prepared for and I had started it for a course I was taking only to find out it was not what the teacher was requesting of me at all! :0  But I’m so glad I finished it anyway.

This is how it all began…


I saw this beautiful maple leaf laying on my porch and I snapped a picture of it using my camera which I love - I use it for all my photography as well as my video recording.

I snapped a lot of pictures that particular day as it seemed to be a perfect autumn moment – then I came in and combed through my photos on the computer so I could view them up close.

This one caught my eye, so I went into and with their free editing program, I edited the photo of this maple leaf by changing it to black and white.

The Real Thing Or A Photo?

At this point in my botanical illustration study I did not know that it is best to capture your subject from the real thing in front of you and of course taking many photos of it so that when it begins to fade, you have lots of great references.  So this is the only photo I took and I left the maple leaf in its location on my porch to be blown away.


Once in black and white, I used the image to begin my sketch.  Because I had changed it to black and white I could easily see the different tones and shading – I did my best to guess at the size of the leaf rather than measuring the original.  If I had known to have the real maple leaf in my possession, I would have been able to take measurements and sketch it out to life size, but this was pretty close.

Botanical Illustration of a Maple Leaf

At this point I began to lay down an initial layer of graphite work – keeping it light so it would serve as my first tone.  From here I began to build up tones while working around the leaf and even using my putty eraser to lighten areas that became too dark.

Another thing I did not know at this point was that in botanical illustration you do not include any shadowing on the surface of the background – you only include shadowing on another object.

For instance if you have two apples and one is casting a shadow on the other, you include the shadow on the other apple.  However, in this case there is only one object, so there should be no shadowing being cast from it except upon itself – just a completely white background.

Once I discovered this “no shadow” rule of botanical illustration, I decided to remove it, which was not easy to do as you can see…

But I kept working with it, a little bit at a time, allowing the paper to rest for a bit before trying to erase more.

I continued to work around the leaf, darkening the shadows and working with the crevices and folds while constantly referring back to my black and white photo.

Going back over my process of this leaf I can just feel the same emotion of joy I was having at the time I was actually creating this piece of work. It was so fun!

At this point I will have to say that if you have never attempted a sketch of a maple leaf, you simply must do it.  Just begin it now and keep on until it is finished.   It will be so worth it!

Simple Graphite Art Tools

It took just a few simple tools to preserve a picture of this life that had fallen from the tree and was slowly fading away.  My HB Faber-Castell 9000 Series Graphite pencil and a softcover Strathmore Mixed Media Sketchbook and God has done so much for us through His Son Jesus Christ unto eternal life!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
— 1 Peter 1:3-6