Make: Gradient Leaf Banners to Celebrate Fall

This morning on a walk with my dog, I realized it was probably the last day for leaves in our neighborhood. They’ve been incredibly glorious this year – HUGE and full of color. So, with my trusty stick collector in tow,  I absolutely STUFFED my pockets to the brim with them (as one does).

My projects this time of year can sometimes get a little…involved. I get so easily carried away by the sheer volume of inspiration, and many a good thought has turned into a time-consuming, highly elaborate heap of confusion.  

These gradient leaf banners are a naturally lovely way to celebrate fall or the holiday season and easy for kids and parents to make. | via barley & birch

This gradient leaf banner happened in the half-hour between my walk and officially starting my workday, and I have to say…I think it’s now one of my very favorite things. (If I do say so myself!) It’s totally uncomplicated and I’m keeping it forever (or…like, until December) to remind me…simplicity (*inhale*) simplicity (*exhale*) simplicity.

It’s a great excuse to get outside, enjoy the last of the leaves, and stuff your pockets with November beauty!

To make your own gradient leaf banners you’ll need:


  • A piece of cardboard, cereal box or heavy card stock
  • Fall leaves and/or assorted nature materials
  • Scissors
  • A glue stick
  • Ribbon or yarn


  • Paint in assorted colors
  • Wire, string or twine (for hanging)

Gradient Leaf Banner Instructions:

  1. Collect natural materials

    We used leaves, sticks, twigs, and pinecones, but you can collect anything you like. You may find some interesting ways to work different collected materials into your banner!

    Having kids look for one range of colors is a great outdoor activity, and one of the elements that really gives this natural art its own style and beauty, but you can put together any collection you like!

  2. Glue your leaves and twigs to a piece of cardboard and trim

    Using a glue stick, attach your leaves and sticks to a rectangle or square of cardboard – from lightest to darkest (or vice versa) to make a full gradient of color.

    We painted a few of our sticks, but it’s an optional step.

    Once finished, trim away any excess cardboard.

  3. Tie your cardboard banner onto a stick using ribbon

    Using a bit of ribbon, thread, wire, or twine, attach your cardboard banner to a long stick.

    We glued grosgrain ribbon onto the back of the cardboard banner/stick, but you can make holes to tie them together, attach them with a piece of wire, etc.

  4. Add decorative elements

    Combine colorful yarn, ribbon, and/or other items you can tie on, to give your banners a festive, decorative feel!

What is a color gradient?

A color gradient, like the leaf banner up above displays, is basically just the visualization of a color progression. Sometimes color gradients show the change from one color to a completely different color, or map the changes from a lighter to a darker shade. They can also show the progress from saturated color to a desaturated black and white version.

Ways use your DIY leaf banner for learning

  • DISCUSS WHY LEAVES CHANGE COLOR. Fall is all about that chlorphyll, baby! Collect some extra leaves and try leaf chlorophyll extraction (from A Little Pinch of Perfect) or one of these leaf science experiments from National Geographic.
  • PRACTICE LEAF IDENTIFICATION. Take our free printable leaf activity kit out as you collect the leaves for your banner.
  • CREATE NEW GRADIENTS. Instead of looking for natural gradients, paint your leaves to practice creating different kinds of gradients using tints and shades of one color or trying color-mixing. You can also try a handy technique we used in our photocopied leaf collages – create a photocopy of a leaf (or just draw your own outline) make a few black and white copies, then glue them on and fill in with watercolors. This is a good variation for those of you who may not experience autumn color changes or don’t have many falling leaves.
  • INVESTIGATE OTHER GRADIENTS IN NATURE. Flower petals, evening sunsets, the appearance of a deep body of water. We are literally surrounded by gradients. What are some other causes of natural gradients, and how could you represent those in a banner?

For another opportunity to explore collaging with an autumn theme, try a printed halftone gourd collage! Use up more scrap supplies for a spooky wall hanging with our scrap paper ghost art or make a mixed media bendable bat.

Inspired to head outside? Make an upcycled nature explorer’s kit to collect small finds along the way. Younger kids will have fun creating mouse mail!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


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