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How to paint aspens with a cold, wintry feel in watercolor

“Cold Light of WInter” Watercolor 15×11

To give a watercolor, or a painting in any medium for that matter, have a cold, wintry feel to it, there are several components:

Softness (Watercolor is the perfect medium for this)!

Muted Colors

Abundance of cool rather than warm colors

Lots of grayed colors, even greens (for example, no warm, bright greens)

Try for the soft background a grayed green, such as viridian with a touch of alizarin crimson and yellow ochre. That’s one of my favorites. If your mixture looks too brown, it’s too warm and you’ve probably added too much alizarin. Add viridian back in until you get a pretty grayed green. You may also use a gray-blue, such as ultramarine blue and burnt sienna behind these greens for even more distant trees. This is also a pretty gray to use for the shadows in the snow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Be sure to click on the images to enlarge them. “Cold Light of WInter” is the demonstration I did for the RIchardson Civic Art Society in Texas on February 18th.

New look for my blog! I am changing my blog provider to Fine Art Studio Online soon, so it will have a new look and probably won’t be showing all of the previous posts any longer. So…if you haven’t looked back at the past posts, you might want to do so in case they might go away!

Thanks for taking a look at my blog! You may see a lot of the paintings on my blog on my website,

How To Keep Backlit Aspen foliage as bright as possible in watercolor

"Nearing Close of Day" 15x11 Plein Air Watercolor
“Nearing Close of Day” Plein Air Watercolor 15 x 11

Backlighting Situations

This was a late afternoon painting where the light was blasting through the green aspen foliage making it seem almost a neon yellow with a slight tinge of green. Of course, a camera wouldn’t see it quite this way, but I was there with the light shining directly in my eyes. Thank goodness for visors! In this situation, I had to figure out fast (sun was dropping and would soon drop behind the mountains and my scene would completely be gone) how to keep the backlit foliage looking bright to get my message across!

This problem has a pretty simple solution, and I’m sure there are other ways of doing it, too. What I did was to decide to start with the lightest, brightest color I could and NOT TOUCH IT AGAIN. So, the lightest yellow you see is what I put down absolutely first. The only thing I did to it after that was give it a little form at the end by adding another layer of LIGHT yellow-green in and around my original light yellow. So, the lightest yellow you see is the original wash with no white mixed in it! For the original yellow, I used Winsor Lemon and the slightest touch of pthalo green to give it the slightest tinge of green. In some places, it is just light yellow, because that was the way I saw it. I figured that leaving the original wash of yellow alone would let the most amount of the white watercolor paper showing through, and that’s what watercolor is about.

Be sure to click on the image to enlarge and I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip! I also tried to surround the yellow with the blue-green you see, while it was wet to get soft edges, while painting around my aspen trunks. This is not easy in Colorado, because the weather is so dry, so I really had to paint fast!

I’m happy that “Nearing Close of Day” was juried into the Southwestern Watercolor Society exhibit which will be hanging in Richardson, Texas, at the Eisemann Center through September 28th. Vlad Yeliseyev is the judge of the show. Be sure to go by if you’re in the Dallas area!

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

Putting Down the First Big Shapes of Aspen Foliage

This shows the first stage of an on location aspen painting I did in Durango, Colorado, in the beautiful La Plata Canyon. The left side of my painting and palette is in the shade. This shouldn’t be the case – both the painting and palette should be in the same light. I haven’t moved into the shade yet, as the sun was chasing me. The painting will be of the path across the road. Notice how I had to simplivy the big shapes of the foliage so that it wouldn’t look spotty and disconnected. The path, streaks of sunlight and the sky are still the white canvas.
This is a close-up of the above painting. Looks pretty bad at this stage, doesn’t it? After drawing the main shapes first lightly in thinned down paint, I “scrub” the shapes in pretty loosely. You can see that I put a little purple in the background, which I usually include in landscapes where there is a lot of yellow and yellow-green. I mixed the purple out of red and blue – I don’t use a purple out of a tube because there is no need to.
Here is a close-up of my palette and the painting with the completed block-in. You can see that I have used very few colors so far. Two yellows, one blue, one red and some viridian green plus a touch of yellow ochre and a tiny bit of white on parts of the road. The simpler, the better, at this stage!
Here’s another view of the path I’m painting. Now I’m all in the shade, which is the way it should be.
Here is the finished painting, “Autumn Trail,” 12 x 9″ plein air oil painting.
Using a limited palette is much easier outdoors – paint tubes add weight, and sometimes you have to “pare down” when walking any distance. Also, you can mix any color that you need from the three primaries. A good thing to remember about the block-in is to keep your shapes simple and not the same size as each other. Second tip is to go very easy on the white! I don’t use it until I just have to. Too much white can lead to a chalky looking oil painting! Third tip is that it’s okay to leave some of the block-in showing through the finished painting. This leaves some transparent spots in the painting as well as some of the original, “scrubby” strokes. This, I think, adds more excitement and variety.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog and that each of you has a very Happy New Year with lots of painting aspens. That is one ingredient of a Happy New Year for me!

To see more aspen paintings, be sure to visit my web site and look under both Landscapes and Plein Air Studies.

What should I do during a dry spell?

“Summer Light”
15×11 Plein Air Watercolor

What Should I Do During a Dry Spell?

Since I haven’t posted for a while (I’ve been painting a lot and will do better), I’ll try to make up for it by giving you my thoughts about some things which I think are important.

What is a “dry spell?” I’m referring to what can be several different things here. One dry spell could be burnout or “painter’s block” when nothing inspires you to paint. Another, for plein air painters, could be that it’s too darn hot to go out and paint and everything is either green on green on more green, OR all brown and burned up! No color – that’s not inspiring. Another dry spell could be that you’re not selling and you don’t need any more paintings piling up if you aren’t selling what you have.

Let’s take a positive approach to combat this dry spell and do something to improve your painting! The first thing I think of is to get out of your comfort zone by trying something new. I’m not an “experimental” person myself and don’t do things too much out of the ordinary, but one thing that comes to mind that REALLY improves your skills is to use a limited palette on a whole painting. Choose one red, one yellow and one blue (plus white if you are doing an oil) and mix every color in the painting out of those three. You might have disastrous results at first because a.) you need more practice in mixing some of the colors or b.) you might need to change one of your primaries because it might not mix as well as another one does and could give you some ugly colors. You have to find this out! “Summer Light” above (click on the painting to enlarge)  was painted using one red, one yellow and one blue. It’s FUN, it’s CHALLENGING, and it’s REWARDING when you accomplish something like this. Now I’m starting to add a few of my “favorites” that are not primaries at the VERY END IF NEEDED. The color unity is already in the painting from using three colors. I sometimes add my favorites, burnt sienna and viridian green (neither one being a primary) to get a little more variety in my greens, for instance.

Another thing I’d recommend is trying to perfect your “working method.” What works and what doesn’t work best? Now you have time to experiment and find out the best way YOU work. Example: Right now in plein air oils I’m experimenting with doing a really wild and colorful underpainting. My theory is that these colors will show through a bit and always influence whatever is put over them. In my next blog post (soon) I’ll show one of these. To further challenge myself, I’m using a limited palette also on these paintings.

Using a limited palette is much easier outdoors – paint tubes add weight, and sometimes you have to “pare down” when walking any distance. Also, you can mix any color from the three primaries that you need.

I hope this has given you some ideas. I’ve been working on this underpainting thing day after day after day. It’s called practice!

When the economy is down and galleries aren’t selling well a goal could be to get better at what you’re doing and start stockpiling some awesome work for when things do start selling!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I’m sorry I got so wordy! One last thing, this isn’t an aspen painting, but I’m very happy to have gotten my third painting accepted into the American Impressionist Society Juried Exhibit! “Leaving Moab” is below:

Bye until next time! Be sure to check my web site for new paintings I’ve added:

Even More Ways to Lead the Eye Around in an Aspen Painting

“Ushering In Winter”
20 x 16″ Oil

In this painting, I very obviously used logs to lead the eye into the painting (lower left side and also lower left at the bottom) then up to the main aspen tree. However, I didn’t stop there – the logs lead the eye from the main aspen tree all the way back into the painting in kind of a zig-zag pattern.

The logs didn’t just “happen” – I planned them out carefully in my preliminary sketch, arranging and rearranging them so that they: 1. looked natural, like Mother Nature had just placed them there and 2. didn’t look scattered, evenly spaced, with no linkage to lead you anywhere. With all of this careful planning, I still had to take a couple of logs out because it was looking too crowded.

Sometimes simplifying is the best thing an artist can do!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Be sure to double-click on the image to enlarge. And stay tuned for my next post!

You may see lots of aspen paintings in all seasons on my web site,, under Landscapes and also under Plein Air Paintings. Enjoy!


How Do I Use a Limited Palette on a Plein Air Aspen Painting?

Step 1: Drawing

I draw the composition as simply as I can to save time in the light that is always changing. I like to draw with orange; the drawing may be any color, thinned with mineral spirits (I use Gamsol made by Gamblin). I quickly block in some of the shadow color of the trunks and some darker color on the logs.

This shows my palette and finished block-in.

On this painting, I only used (from left to right) Quinacridone Red, orange mixed from my red and yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium lemon, viridian green (far right corner), ultramarine blue, and cerulean blue. The mixture to the left of cerulean is a violet mixed from ultramarine and red, with a little yellow to gray it. My titanium white is bottom middle.

Photo of the scene

This is a photo of the scene – I didn’t paint it this way (after I took the photo I decided to change my perspective a little and add what was on the right of the main tree, moving it to the left in my painting). I was shooting directly into the sun, so couldn’t get a very good photo, but that’s okay – the photo is just to remind me of a few things if I need it; not to paint by.

Finished painting, “Making a Comeback” 12 x 9″

I didn’t really make any changes to the block-in – just added more paint, detail and a little refining.

Using a limited palette is much easier outdoors – paint tubes add weight, and sometimes you have to “pare down” when walking any distance. Also, you can mix any color from the three primaries that you need. I use two yellows when painting fall aspens because my favorite, the lemon, is not warm enough by itself. Also, you could substitute Alizarin Crimson easily for the red. Try it! I sometimes see the need to add my Burnt Sienna to the palette (I love it), but I didn’t this time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and I’m making a new year’s resolution to post on my blog more often. I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas, and very Happy New Year! Don’t forget to click on the images to enlarge them, and I’ll be in touch next year!


More on unifying aspen trees with other parts of the painting

“In Time for Fall” 11×14 Oil

In this aspen painting, I added my own daughter! She was wearing a black and white dress when she was modeling for me, but I decided to change it because I thought the blue-violet would go better with the yellow-greens of the foliage. To unify her into the painting, I repeated her dress color into the ground in the form of suggested flowers. Also, in the beginning underpainting, I blocked in the most distant trees with violet, which shows through a little and also repeats the blue-violet.

Click on the image to enlarge and notice the soft edges on Kim’s hair and dress where she practically blends into the background. This unifies her with the background and doesn’t give the feeling of her just being stuck on there, like I had cut her out with scissors.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it has given you food for thought! My next post will have a step-by-step aspen painting done en plein air, so stay tuned.

Don’t forget about my three upcoming landscape workshops. The first one is coming up November 8-9th in Rockwall, Texas. See more details on my web site,, under Exhibits, Events and Classes. Besides working on how to “bend a color” to unify paintings, we will also work on “What does the painting need?” How to step back and analyze what will make a successful painting after you have been true to the photo you are painting from. Of course, we will be painting aspen trees one of the two days!

Also, if you are in the Dallas area, don’t miss my oil demonstration for the Richardson Civic Art Society on October 17th at the Richardson Public Library. See details on my web site under Exhibits, Events and Classes. I will be demonstrating an aspen painting in oil.

How do I unify aspen trees with other subjects in the painting?

“Cold Feet” 20×30 Oil

“Cold Feet” is a good example of unifying the deer with the surrounding aspen trees. In the first place, I used a very limited palette (mainly red, yellow and blue, the primary colors) for the whole painting, so it was unified that way from the beginning. Also, I used the same colors I painted the deer with on most of the aspen trees and also repeated some in the background. Even the highlights on the deer and one the aspen trees are mixed out of the same white and yellows.

A  way to unify the snow with the rest of the painting is to first tone the canvas with the deer colors (wipe excess off with paper towel or rag so it’s a thin tone) and let a little of this tone show through the snow in spots. Click on “Cold Feet” to enlarge it and see the tone showing through the snow better.

This is what we will work on in my three upcoming oil workshops in November and December of this year and January, 2018.  I’ll demonstrate what I call “bending a color” to unify paintings. If a painting is unified, it all “goes together” in a pleasing manner to the viewer, and the viewer probably will not even realize why he or she is so attracted to the painting. See list of workshops and locations on my web site, under “Exhibits, Events and Classes.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post!

Another Way to Lead the Eye Around an Aspen Painting

Nature's Reward

“Nature’s Reward”  22×15 watercolor

I haven’t posted anything about leading the eye around an aspen painting since 2014, so I thought it was about time to address another idea. At that time, I talked about leading the eye around with the foliage, logs, and some other things, but this time I wanted to talk about rocks. This watercolor is a good example. I did not actually see this scene – I first saw only the rocks leading up a hill. I liked the design of them – they zigzagged up the hill and, for the most part, were different sizes (interesting). So, I took the rock idea and added the aspens from another photo I had taken.  I also added the suggestion of a path leading through the rocks up to the aspens – so there is another lead in to get you up to the aspens! Notice the one third – two thirds format – one third aspens and background and two thirds foreground/rocks. This makes the lead in more dramatic and also creates more interest by not having equal sizes.

Click on the image to enlarge and notice all the texture in the rocks. Next post will explore ways to do this!
Click on the image to enlarge and notice all the texture in the rocks. Next post will explore ways to do this!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it has made you think of some things you hadn’t thought about. Stay tuned for the next one. You may see “Nature’s Reward” under Landscapes on my web site, I just completed it this month on a trip to Estes Park, Colorado. Thanks for taking a look!