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!

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