Let's say I have some real tree leaves, gathered in the autumn and dried out in preparation for using them as decorations (e.g. hung around the house or stuck to the walls). If the natural colours of autumn aren't bright enough, or have dulled during the drying process, then I might want to paint the leaves to make them more bright and cheerful.

What kind of paint works on dried tree leaves? If they need any kind of preparation before being painted, e.g. covering them in some kind of sealant or undercoat, then that counts as part of this question.

3 Answers 3


Spray paint is definitely the best approach due to the delicate nature of the leaves.

A quick drying acrylic spray paint works for me with sprigs. The leaves need to be free of loose material like dust, before painting. You can do this by gently brushing with a paintbrush, or on a cool slow setting using a hairdryer).A quick drying clear lacquer should also work if it's acrylic. The acrylic forms a plastic coat that seals, protects and strengthens. It has the advantage of drying very quickly which is a property you want, to hopefully avoid the leaves getting curly or sitting around damp. I usually give a couple of coats to sprigs. You may get some nice patterns as a by-product to spraying flat on paper/fabric etc.


As a painting surface, dried leaves aren't too different from old, brittle paper. I think pretty much any kind of paint chemistry will work with leaves, although water-based paint may be more likely to curl or warp the leaves.

The bigger issue is how to apply it without breaking the leaves. The safest application method is probably spraying it on. The paint will add a little strength to the leaves once it dries if there's a good coating.

Depending on the leaves and the paint, you might want to paint both sides to avoid curling or breaking from the stress. Experiment with a few leaves. If you collected a good supply, and only some of the leaves don't stay flat and intact with the paint you choose, you could save some time and paint expense by painting just one side, using the good ones, and tossing the bad ones. After all, leaves grow on trees. :-)

  • 2
    I've had success in the dim and distant past with rattle-can spray. I would expect solvent-based to work better than water-based, even if you spray the latter - you've just dried the leaves, so try to avoid wetting them again with something they'll absorb. If you want to brush on a design, a base coat sprayed might be a good idea.
    – Chris H
    Mar 28, 2022 at 9:11

I can think of a number of different paint media that can create very different and interesting effects.

Acrylic paints are probably the cheapest, most available and obvious paints to choose. They stay slightly flexible after drying, so changes in the leaves' shape due to moisture shouldn't crack them. ModPodge mixed with paints would also work and give the paint more transparency, if that is desired.

Oil paints could probably create interesting effects, especially if you use them like a glaze to enhance the natural color instead of completely covering it. The disadvantage is that oil paints take a long time to dry.

Oil pastels dry a lot quicker but are a lot firmer. You'd need thick and sturdy leaves to use them.

Encaustic is a technique where you melt colored wax onto paper. You could use the same technique to "paint" wax on leaves and it even works well with cheap crayons. This will probably work best on very pale leaves (because the wax is thin enough to show the paper or leaf in spots) and it can protect the fragile leaves from damage. The disadvantage is that the thin layer of wax can crack easily if not handled carefully. And make sure to put a sheet of baking paper between your iron / hot plate and the leaves to catch any spills. Or melt some wax of different colors on this paper and dip the leaves into the molten wax.

Wood stains would probably soak into the fibers of the leaves and look more natural than acrylic paints (if you use red wood stain). If the leaves don't have a uniform consistency, you could get patchy results, though. And if the leaves have a waxy surface the stain won't work at all.

Spray paints (as mentioned by fixer 1234) are very good at creating a very smooth and even coat.

I would not use any water colors or aquarelle paints because they probably won't stick very well to the leaves and there's a higher risk that they crack and flake off if the leaves bend or rub together after painting.

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