I am a big fan of using paper in my dioramas, especially watercolor paper. It gives a texture and feel that is hard to replicate with clay or other materials. It’s also great for making things in bulk – like leaves!
I start out by roughly painting both sides of watercolor paper. My painting technique is usually just blobs of color and levels of transparency, so there is some variety in my leaves.
Then the magic happens with these: Nellie’s Choice Floral Punches. I have only found this brand on Amazon, but they have a lot of sizes and shapes if you search for “Nellie’s Choice”. I like the ones that come in pairs: one is a paper punch, and the other is a small embossing tool.
The punching takes a surprising amount of strength. I’ve read that punching foil and parchment paper a few times helps prepare the punch for cutting other things. They make levers and tools just for this type of thing, but we rigged up something using a board to punch these in bulk.
This is what the leaves look like when they are just punched, not embossed. They look pretty cute just like this, but…
…embossing them takes it to a whole other level. It adds shadows and depth to each individual leaf. It makes them much more vibrant.
I take it one step further and curl the paper leaves around a cylindrical tool, bending and shaping the leaves out so each bunch feels fuller.
Here is the finished result. I would recommend smudging a little watercolor paint on the white edges of the paper leaves, if you use thick paper. I make these leaves in bulk and store them in jars – I have lots of different colors for summer and fall. You could also punch out printed / colored craft paper, if you want to skip the painting part. Having these on hand makes tree and shrub making a lot easier.