watercolor leaves

By Lizzie Knutson Cloward

Make Watercolor Leaf Decorations for Fall

Try this fun watercolor leaf project to bring the colors of autumn inside. Make a quick and impactful fall garland or colorful addition to a holiday table. 

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. I’m happy to live in a place where I get to experience the bright reds, oranges, and yellows the maple trees around me. When I lived in San Francisco, I loved walking by ginkgo trees in the fall. Their vibrant yellow is so beautiful, to me it almost hums! For the look of these leaves, I took inspiration from my backyard, but look for autumn colors around you or experiment with your favorite hues. 

Gather Your Materials







Step 1: Cut Your Paper

I created some free templates for ginkgo, poplar, and maple leaves. You can download and print them all here!

Print out our templates. Alternately, you can eyeball the outlines by looking at the templates. You can make the leaves whatever size you want, but the smaller you go, the more difficult they’ll be to fold because watercolor paper is heavy. 

Cut out the templates and trace with a pencil or waterproof pen onto your watercolor paper. Note where the top and bottom of the leaves and the direction of the lines (this is how you’ll fold them). You don’t need to trace the horizontal lines on the watercolor paper, they’re just for reference.

Step 2: Get colorful!

There are 2 methods here: working with your watercolors on either wet or dry paper. 

If you wet the paper first and then apply paint, you’ll get areas where the colors will bleed into each other, run and mix together. Applying the paint to dry paper can result in a more pigmented application with more control over where the colors go. This is a great place to experiment with the methods you like best because this project is all about color instead of form. (I like how these ended up looking like bananas!). 

Use the paper towel to dab off excess water and color from your brush as you’re working, and to clean it between colors. 

On the finished leaves, the sides of the template will become the lobes of the leaf. If I’m going for a more realistic look, I like to focus areas of brown along the sides of the template. 

Step 3: Cut and fold

Once the paper is dry, use scissors to cut out the leaves along the lines you traced.

Next, flip one leaf over to the blank side of the paper and starting from the top of the template, fold up about half inch wide horizontal section of the side you painted.

Run a bone folder (optional) along the folded edge to make a nice crease. Fold back and forth like an accordion. The folds don’t have to be perfectly even, but try to keep them as parallel to the edge of the paper as possible. This will minimize any trimming of your beautiful watercolor.  Keep in mind your fingers and surface might get some pigment on them at this point! 

Once you’ve made all the horizontal folds down to the bottom side of the leaf, trim any overhang. 

Make sure the last piece you folded has color on it. You can check this by holding the accordion folds together. If the last fold you made is white, trim it off. 

Step 4: Finishing Touches

Holding the accordion folds all together, bring the top sides of your leaf together and make a crease in the middle of the accordion. 

Flip to the back and use a piece of tape on one of the middle sides of the leaf. 

 Hold the ends together and fold the tape down to secure the facing sides together. 

Use another piece of tape to make them extra secure if you want! Trim any tape overhang.

There will be a hole in the bottom middle of the leaf where you can add string to make a leafy garland. You can also scatter a bunch to look like fallen leaves or add one to each place setting for your next gathering.

More Painting Projects 

More DIY Tutorials to Get Into The Holiday Spirit

Happy Holidays! You can check out all of our DIY blogs here.  What are your favorite ways to decorate for fall? Share your tips in the comments below!

Lizzie Knutson Cloward

Designer and creator behind Frankie Baby Studio.


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