Using Freestyle Acanthus Leaves
So far we have only looked at regular, repetitive, well-behaved acanthus leaves. That is not the way you usually find them. They are more likely to be found mixed in with vine borders, weeds, and little stars. They are ragged and wild looking. However, there is a grace about the way they curl and twirl around. I start my acanthus leaves by sketching the curl, then I add a trumpet leaf to the end and I work backwards. Then I finish by defining the shapes of the ends of each leaf, sometimes adding an extra little curl. Acanathus leaves can be plump with rounded leaf endings or skinny with pointy ends. Here are some examples of freestyle acanthus leaves from my works and historical sources.
This leaf is simply made of a series of stretched out trumpet leaves. (See next lesson for more on trumpet leaves.) I mixed blueberry and pansy plants and a lot of little stars in with the acanathus leaves in this border. Click on the picture to see the whole scroll. See how the acanthus leaves in this border aren't attached to anything. Sometimes they spring from the edge or corner of the border or from the ends of an inital.
See how simple and graceful these leaves are. Notice the simplicity of the highlights and shadow. These are not as complicated as the ones described at length above. See all the "stars" and "floatees" in the background? I think they represent motes, gnats, or seeds floating in the air.
In contrast, the leaves in the this picture are extremely complex. Acanthus leaves were often used to support people, animals, and monsters in the borders. These figures are called "vignettes" because they are in the vines. This example comes from the Universite of Liege.
This example links to a manuscript page that shows how acanthus leaves can be mixed with animals and plants, too. In this "fool the eye" painting the words are painted on a scrap of parchment "stuck" to the "scroll" which is spread on a faux marble slab. I think this is a very clever composition.
This is also an example from the Universite of Liege.
This example shows how effective very simple acanthus leaves in red and blue on a black background can be when you add lots of little curls in white.