How do I see and correct mistakes at the end of an aspen painting?


Since it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t posted on my blog in a while (sorry, it’s been a crazy fall), I thought I’d do a step-by-step that I painted plein air in Endo Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park, in September. If you’re wondering why I post so many fall aspen paintings, it’s because the fall is my favorite time to paint them!

This is a photo of my outdoor palette, an 11×14 Open M Box that I’ve had for years and years, mounted on my tripod.



Step 1: After sketching out my composition on my gessoed panel, I begin blocking in the major shapes with oil paint thinned a little with Gamsol. The tree on the right has two branches that go strongly out to the right, and I mistakenly thought this would turn out all right in the end.


Step 2: I begin blocking in the shadow sides of the trees with a mixture of the primary colors, Rembrandt Red, Cadmium Lemon and Cobalt Blue, to get a gray color. I just keep mixing until I get what I want, still using thinned paint.


Step 3: I refine the trees a little, adding white on the light side of the trees, sometimes mixing a little yellow into it to kill the coolness of the white. I work on the aspen leaves with thicker paint, softening edges into the background a little. I start refining the black on the trunks and add more black markings on the trees. I still have the branch problem I need to fix, plus a rounded half semi-circle of foliage just below the lower branch on the right (bad shape). How do I fix these?


“Autumn’s Entrance”  9×12″ Plein Air Oil

Sometimes what attracted us to a scene just doesn’t work out in a painting – in this case, I loved the two strong branches on the right of the major tree. However, they were just too strong, so I had to detract from them by subduing them by adding more grays on them and making them less of a sharp right angle by redirecting them. I also detracted from my semi-circle foliage by cutting the background into it in a couple of places and also softening it into the background. I added some tiny yellow flowers in the foreground around the lead-in logs to repeat the yellows of the aspen leaves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this step-by-step and are having a wonderful holiday season! Please email me with any questions about the painting. And remember…it’s always okay to edit what you see out there – especially if it doesn’t work in a painting!