How to Push Aspens into the Background

“A Moment in Time,” 18 x 24″ Oil on Linen Canvas

Believe it or not, sometimes I want to paint aspens that “contribute” to the scene and are not the main actors! It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I want to subdue, soften and push them into the background so that they don’t take the attention from my main focus in the painting. This is what I wanted for “A Moment in Time.” I wanted my “main actor” to be the small snow-covered pine tree that was the only one in the light. This was because the sun was just about to drop behind the mountain. How do I do this?
There are several ways:
  • Mix a good gray for your aspen color with hardly any white to lighten it and add some of the background color to the mixture (in this case, dark greens or purples).
  • Lift out the aspens from a wet, already painted background so that they automatically have some of the background paint influencing them. Then you can lightly paint over what you’ve lifted out.
  • Paint them over the background, darkening them if needed (less white in the mixture) then soften the edges of them by bringing their color out into the background a little then painting the background color back in toward the edge of the aspens.
If you’re painting the aspens over a dark background that is dry, it is helpful to make the background “feel” as if it’s wet paint. There are a couple of ways that i do this. I either coat the area with Winsor and Newton Liquin, or I coat the area with a mixture of one-half Gamsol and one-half Galkyd and wipe this off just a little with a clean rag (both Gamsol and Galkyd are Gamblin products). This makes it much easier to do what I described above.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and don’t forget to click on the image(s) to enlarge them. If you’d like to see more aspen paintings in watercolor and oil, please visit my web site. Look under Landscapes and also Plein Air Studies. Thanks for being an aspen lover and for reading my blog!

Warm regards,

Cecy Turner