How to Draw Different Styles of Leaves

Leaves are a great way to add more flow, depth, and interest to your tattoo designs. As a tattoo artist, you’ll want the leaves you add to a design to match the overall style of the tattoo. 

In this article, we’ll be breaking down different leaf styles, including:

  • American Traditional leaves
  • Neo Traditional leaves
  • Realism leaves
  • New School leaves

Leaf Designs for Tattoos

Knowing how to draw different styles of leaves is important because your leaves should match the style of the rest of the tattoo. 

For example, you wouldn’t use Neo Traditional leaves with an American Traditional rose because it would make the tattoo look weird on the person’s skin.

American Traditional

James Motz tattoo
american traditional rose tattoo
samuele briganti rose

Anytime you draw leaves, you’ll want to start out with a circle and draw a line through the middle. From there, you can draw a center (usually, the center of traditional leaves is yellow) and then create a design around the center that fills up the circle you sketched. 

For example, you can use a “bumpy” line to create the silhouette of the leaf. Whether you fill in the lines all the way to the center is a personal choice. However, if your design is very small, you might want to skip all those tiny lines since they could spread and merge together under the skin over time.

You can add more visual interest by using a “teardrop” shape at the top of the leaf in a different color.


We recommend looking at references to find new ideas you like, and then adding to them so that they are unique to your tattoo designs.

Pro Tip:

When it comes to placing leaves in your design, you usually want to stick with a triangle so that the design looks symmetrical on both sides.

Neo Traditional

Because neo traditional evolved from the American traditional style, you’ll usually see similar “triangle” placement of leaves. However, you might add more than one leaf in some areas to make the design more visually appealing and to add more flow to the design

Rose tattoo design by Tattooing 101 Instructor Brandon

Neo Traditional Leaf Details

With neo traditional, you have a little more wiggle room with adding different details. For example, you can add veins to your leaves with a thinner line weight, show little cuts in the leaf, or use different-sized leaves, etc. 

You can also lengthen or shorten the leaves to change the feel or style of them. The only “rule” you definitely need to follow is to make sure the veins of the leaf go in the right direction.

Pro Tip:

A super-easy way to draw a leaf is to draw a circle, draw a line through the circle, and then taper the circle up to the top of the line. This will give you a leaf with a very round shape.


rose tattoo
realistic rose tattoo
monique elizabeth rose tattoo

When it comes to realism, you will use an actual photo of a leaf to create your design. We recommend printing off different versions of your realism images (one brighter and one darker) so you can easily see the highlights and shadows in your design.

New School

rose tattoo design
new school rose and diamond tattoo

The new school style of tattooing is heavily stylized - especially when it comes to proportions and shape. The leaves you create can look more “cartoon-like.”

For example, you can start drawing the same way you would for traditional or neo traditional (a circle with a line through it). Then, to create a more new school-style leaf, you can make the middle of the leaf very thick or create a more jagged silhouette.

Pro Tip:

When it comes to shading, you can leave the middle yellow and then start the shading right outside of the middle.

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult. 

The apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattoo artists to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers. 

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

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Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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