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Dew on a Leaf and Snowdrop by Katharine Laird

Hello again,

This month I’ve decided to show you how I tackle water droplets on a flower, as I’m quite often asked how to do this.

A few years ago when I was running 5-weekly pastel workshops I ran one with the theme of ‘Water’ and one of the sessions concentrated on ‘dew on flowers’.

At first most of the group were a little nervous but I kept repeating my mantra ‘colour-shape’ – ‘shape-colour’ and their confidence increased when they looked at the exercise that way.

One lady was so delighted at her progress that she didn’t stop painting droplets until you could no longer see the flower! It looked great

Below is a close-up of a leaf with water droplets


I picked this leaf from the garden and I haven’t got a clue what tree or bush it’s from, but it was about three inches in length. I spattered water onto it myself as on that day there was no rain!

I sketched it using a 2B graphite pencil and then used a variety of pastel pencils (all available from the SAA) to shade in the lights and darks on the leaf and to highlight the shadows. Sometimes, if an area to ‘paint’ is small, you may have to use pencils rather than blocks as it isn’t always easy to get into the small spaces – especially if they’re irregular in shape.

The colours I’ve used are:-

Derwent Pastel Pencils  -  Shamrock 420, Pale Olive 490, Green Oxide 450, Zinc Yellow 020, Ultramarine 290

Faber Castell Pastel Pencils  -  Dark Indigo 157, Earth Green 172, Olive Green 173, Cream 102, White 101

Because the droplets stand ‘proud’ of the surface of the leaf they have a three-dimensional shape and form. They therefore cast a shadow, depending on the angle of the light. In addition, and because of their 3-D shape, each water droplet will slightly distort the leaf surface underneath. This may result in a lighter colour and/or a distortion of shape, if the water droplet is on top of a ‘leaf vein’ (for example). This is where you need to look carefully at your object or image and ‘paint what you see’!

Now and again I find I’m unable to achieve a successful white spot (or mark of light) in a painting using pastels. Sometimes the pastel block is just too large, but a pastel pencil doesn’t give the strength of mark I want. On these occasions I use a small amount of tube watercolour paint, as it needs to be ‘goopy’ enough, but not too ‘runny’.

I’ve used some SAA Opaque White (SAAW14704) and an SAA Silver brush detailer size 02 (SAAB02). I’ve highlighted on the painting just where I’ve used the paint. Please note I never use acrylic paint to do this.

Now for the Snowdrop


I’ve drawn this from life having picked one out of the garden – golly aren’t they small! As always I’ve used my favourite surface – Pastelmat – colour Light Grey 6 – Size one-quarter Imperial.

Before starting to work on this I took some time to consider my choice of colours. I’m quite often asked what shadow colours should be used when painting a topic that’s largely white. Often times people automatically assume that a shadow on white must be grey but I find that it’s anything but grey! Take a white dog for example – something like a ‘Westie’. Depending on the background or mood you want to convey, pale blues, lilacs or peaches could be the answer – especially if these colours are picked up again say – in the dog’s nose, mouth, eyes or ears. I will look at this as a topic later in the year.

Getting back to the Snowdrop I had my source image (from the garden) scanned and printed (colour and black and white) which I then traced on to my paper. I used Tracedown (colour – Graphite A3 – SAA Catalogue Page 123) to capture an exact image. I used an embossing tool (SDBS - SAA Catalogue page 129) as this is excellent for the purpose. I then used a Derwent Pastel Pencil Violet Oxide (240) to strengthen the outline. I started painting the ‘green’ areas of the flower first using Sap Green Tint 5 (AP0635) and Permanent Green Light 5 (AP1575) for the highlights. I used Deep green 5 (AP0135) on the curve of the stem furthest away from the light, and a little on the stem of the flower as it joins the main stem.

At the top of the main stem I used Permanent Green 5 (AP0875) to shadow the stem. This shadow was lighter than the lower part of the stem. Deep Green would have been too dark here.

Just under the water droplets I’ve used Derwent Pastel Pencil Shamrock (DPP420). I couldn’t have made such a small mark using pastel blocks. I needed to use a pencil. For the petals themselves I use Dioxazine Violet 5 (AP1458) and Dioxazine Violet 5 (AP1455) being careful to go around the larger water droplets. The petals nearest the light source are mainly White (AP001) with a little Permanent Magenta 3 (AP0823). I used Derwent Pastel Pencil Violet Oxide (240) for shadows under the droplets.

I used Lemon 8 (AP0208) and Orange Yellow 5 (AP2295) on the petals nearest to the stem as well as on the stem itself.

I chose Deep Purple 5 (AP0295) for the background to make the flower really stand out. A Faber Castell Pastel Pencil White (101) re-established the droplets on the edge of the petals, some of which have a little yellow or green inside. I haven’t here, but you could use some SAA tube watercolour for tiny detail such as the dot of white in the water droplets.


Why not have a go yourself. Think ‘shape – colour, colour – shape, it’s not as hard as you think.

Finally in my classes – our philosophy is about enablement. This is why I like the SAA so much, because that’s what they’re all about too. We want people to be able to ‘have a go’ and develop – not be ‘switched off’ because they feel they can’t draw. So use Tracedown. It’s not cheating - it’s accurate.

Next month I’ll be showing you how I paint folds in clothes, blowing on the washing line.