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.