Even more about leading the eye around an aspen tree painting!

"Two Tall Tales" Plein Air Watercolor  11x8"
“Two Tall Tales”
Plein Air Watercolor 11×8″

In this watercolor, pharm I have a very strong lead-in of the log on the lower right. It leads you to the main aspen on the left, and there is no subtleness or misunderstanding about it! I used the small pine tree in the distance between the two trees to hopefully lead you back to the right with its foliage connecting to the aspen tree on the right. This allows the viewer to go back down the right aspen, back to the log, and back up to the main aspen on the left. I painted this on the Gem Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Breaking the rules a little
Breaking the rules a little

I purposely “broke the rules” in the watercolor by having the log coming in right from the corner. I wanted to make a strong statement on this one. However, I was mindful that the portion of the log from the corner to the left of the corner was a larger measurement than the portion of the log from the corner to the upper right. In other words, if you make something come in or out of the corner of a painting, make sure the two distances on either side of the corner are not the same!

How do I add color to a green and yellow aspen painting?


"Aspens and Purple Wildflowers"  watercolor  10x8"
“Aspens and Purple Wildflowers” watercolor 10×8″

Most of the time in any landscape, we face a lot of greens, and, in this case, yellows and yellow-greens also. Adding a touch of violet or red-violet is the compliment of yellow and yellow-greens and does wonders for a landscape of mostly greens!

How to plan leading the eye around the painting
How to add another color to an otherwise green aspen painting 

I added the purple wildflowers to add the complimentary color to all the yellows and yellow-greens. I tried to add them in a pattern that would lead back to the log, then to the aspens. After that, I wet the paper and added them wet-into-wet so that they would be soft and not lead the viewer anywhere.  I hope it worked – the log to the aspens, down to the yellow and back to the log in a kind of circular, or  C composition. Any feedback on this – feel free to email me at cecy@cecyturner.com and I have very tough skin, so you won’t make me feel bad, I promise!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Sorry it’s been so long – I’ve had a lot going on, and will try to do better on a weekly post.




More ways to lead the eye in an aspen tree painting


I decided to use this painting as an example because I have some very exciting news about it. “Autumn’s Peak at Wild Basin” just won Best of Show in the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters Centennial Celebration Plein Air Fine Art Show in Rocky Mountain National Park. Part of the proceeds from the sales (and this one sold minutes before the opening reception began!) benefit the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. I am so honored to have won this! So…I must  have done something right here, and let’s discuss: There is a small log on the left, partially buried by grass, that helps as a lead-in (click on image to enlarge). Then when you get to the big aspen, the bright foliage behind it (which is brighter than the foliage behind the aspen trees on the left) curves from right to left and almost connects you to the foliage on the left, which completes an “arc” and leads up the two aspen trees on the left. Then, at the top, you are stopped by more foliage, which almost connects with foliage from the “main actor” aspen on the right and has you look at it again. You come back down it and hopefully the arc leads you around again (instead of leading you out of the picture and on to the next painting)!!!

"Autumn's Peak at Wild Basin"  Plein Air Oil  12x9
“Autumn’s Peak at Wild Basin” Plein Air Oil 12×9
How to plan leading the eye around the painting
How to plan leading the eye around the painting

Many times in my preliminary sketch, I’ll use arrows to remind me how I want to lead the eye around. Also, as in the above foliage, things don’t have to actually connect – they can almost connect, as in this painting, and the eye automatically connects them! Hope you’ve enjoyed, and please feel free to tell your friends about my blog!

How do I lead the eye into the painting?

Here I rearranged the logs while painting this on location. The bottom one “swoops” you right into the picture and immediately points you to the major aspen. Then the log to the left of the “main star” aspen allows your eye to travel to the group of aspens to the left, and the  log on the extreme left points you back in to the picture. Notice how the log on the left is highlighted nearest the aspens and more “lost” as it goes out of the painting for less contrast there.

"End of Summer Greens - Endo Valley" 11x14 Oil has an obvious lead-in.

“End of Summer Greens – Endo Valley” 11×14 Plein Air Oil

Plan how to lead the eye into the painting!
Plan how to lead the eye into the painting!

I see a lot of paintings where students have set up a “roadblock” to the eye instead of planning how to lead into and around the painting. Think of a zig-zag or S-curve (I think these are the two easiest ways) and set it up yourself, even if it isn’t already there, which it probably won’t be. Next blog will explore other ways to lead into and around the painting. Hope you have enjoyed my blog, and, remember that you can click on the painting to enlarge it.

How do I do negative painting in aspen tree foliage?

"Wildflowers and Aspens on Bear Lake Road" plein air watercolor 7x10
“Wildflowers and Aspens on Bear Lake Road” plein air watercolor 7×10

Negative painting simply means “painting behind” something else to make the positive part come out in front. To me, it is one of the best methods one can use in a watercolor (and also oil) because you can create many layers of “depth” in an area. In this watercolor, I began the foliage with a wet-into-wet wash of the lightest color, yellow, then let it dry. While it was drying, which doesn’t take long in Colorado, I spattered on Miskit where I wanted the wildflowers in the foreground. Click on the image if you want to see it larger.

Being Able to Spot a Problem!
How to proceed with negative painting

I first like to “sneak up on it” by starting with a midtone color instead of adding the darkest darks right at the beginning. Then, I can add darker and darker colors, while not completely covering the midtone I’ve just added, which gives more layers and creates more depth. In this way, I finally ended up with the darkest darks where I wanted them, behind the whitest whites of the major aspens. You might want to draw in your negative spaces first until you get the hang of painting them. Add as many layers as you can and don’t always use exactly the same color, for more interest.

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I’ve been involved in Plein Air Rockies, a big plein air event in Estes Park, Colorado. I had to turn in my paintings yesterday. I’ll make up for it!

My oil workshop in Rockwall, Texas, Oct. 27-28th, is full, but please sign up on the waiting list if you haven’t signed up and want to. Things do change for people! See my web site, www.cecyturner.com.


How do I balance my trees? A Step-by-Step painting

Here is an example of having to alter a composition late in the painting to make it a better one. My original concept was to have the two aspens standing alone. Here, I’ve drawn them in pencil on the watercolor paper and added some local color (I mixed a red, yellow and blue on the right tree and added some burnt sienna to the left tree).

"Two Among Friends" Step 1
“Two Among Friends” Step 1


Here I wet the paper around the aspens and add washes of yellow, red and blue and let them “mingle” on the paper. I also add a touch of mineral violet. It’s always good to include violet in a landscape!

Two Among Friends Step 2
Two Among Friends Step 2

I add a little more shadow color on the trees, more dark markings, start the log and pine tree, and add a few deeper greens (out of the same three colors) behind the trees, plus some more purple. All of these colors will have an influence, although I’ll cover some of them up later.


Two Among Friends Step  3
Two Among Friends Step 3

In this step, I further develop the background, adding the other pine and some darker foliage. This is when I begin seeing that things aren’t right.

Two Among Friends  Step 4
Two Among Friends Step 4


I’ve decided that because I didn’t repeat the white trees anywhere, you are “stuck there” and the eye can’t move around the painting. That is not good! The trees are too isolated, so I pull out a small piece of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, wet it, take a couple of scraps of watercolor paper (you can use any stiff paper), put them on either side of what I want to lift, and lift out three small additional trees. Already, it looks better. While I’m at it, I lift out a little light green foliage for the aspens.

Two Among Friends Step 5
Two Among Friends
Step 5
Two Among Friends 10x8 Plein Air Watercolor
Two Among Friends
10×8 Plein Air Watercolor

Finished! I darken the top half of the tree on the right to make it less similar to the left one, put shadowing and detail on my new trees, add a shadow in the right foreground so that your eye goes to the left foreground and follows the light up to the main tree.

Being Able to Spot a Problem!
Being Able to Spot a Problem!

Being able to spot a problem and decide how to correct it comes through a lot of mileage with the paint brush! If you know something isn’t right but don’t know what, get a “second pair of eyes” to look at your painting. Classes, workshops, dvd’s, books, critiques – all of this helps train you to spot a problem and solve it yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it was helpful. Pass it along to your friends! Next post will be about negative painting.

Two spaces left in my Oil Painting Workshop October 27-28th in Rockwall, Texas. See my web site for details!

What is bounced light and how do I introduce it into shadows?

Matted $165  Framed $235
Fall Aspens on Tunnel Road 10×7.5 plein air watercolor

Bounced (or reflected) light is very important in a painting because it adds more realism to the scene. Sunlight hits the ground and whatever colors are there, or in surrounding foliage, for instance, are reflected onto the bark of these beautiful trees. This is a great way to liven up the colors in your shadows. Click on the photo to enlarge it and you can see better the yellows and greens I  have added to the shadows to reflect the ground and the fall foliage into the bark.

Tip of the Day

Glazing is a very good way to add reflected light into your shadows, both in watercolor and oil. In watercolor we glaze over a  color that has dried with diluted paint, such as cadmium yellow or a grayed green you might want to introduce. In oil, it is good to glaze by adding a medium to thin your paint a little.

It is very important to make sure the reflected light you’ve added STAYS in the shadow and doesn’t jump out! Squinting at your shadow is a good way to make sure the values are the same or that the color you added isn’t too bright. Squint at the large aspen in “Fall Aspens on Tunnel Road” to see what I mean.

Thanks for reading my post, and be sure to leave a comment and your email if you’d like to receive notifications of new posts!

Make Every Tree Different

Wild Basin Footbridge email

What makes trees different? In “Wild Basin Footbridge,” my plein air oil painting above, after I used up the obvious three different sizes (large, medium, small), what is left to give each tree its own special personality and make it different from all the other trees?  Notice that the tree on the far left is a bluer gray than the others; the one to the right of it is browner; the main tree (largest) is the “brightest;” the other large tree on the far right has more deep cool colors on its bottom third. I hope you can see some of the subtle differences in this small picture.

Tip of the Day

Besides different sizes, think of other contrasts, such as:

warmer or cooler, lighter or darker, hard edges or more lost (soft) edges, brighter or duller, in light or in shadow, foliage covering or not covering, many branches or few branches, and different colors on the barks of trees – more grays, more browns, more ochres, even adding some gray-purple in the shadows of one of the trees. Just try not to repeat what you do on one tree to the next! VARIETY!

Next blog post, I’ll talk about using reflected (bounced) light on the trunks! Thanks for tuning in.

More About Shapes

Aspen trees lit from the right front - what interesting shapes were added?
  Aspen trees lit from the right front – what interesting shapes were added?

Sometimes we need to add a few things that are missing in a landscape painted plein air (on location, or, in French, “in the open air”). One of the most important things is some shapes to lead the viewer through the painting. Notice in the foreground the dark shape of the grass that begins at the bottom and kind of zig-zags to the left, then to the right and “happens” to end up at the major aspen. That wasn’t there – I added it, and also the small rocks that lead up to the aspen. I completed this little watercolor (approximately 10×7″) last week in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Notice, also, the shapes of the foliage:

Tip of the DayEdgar A. Whitney,                     sometimes called “the father of watercolor,” gave a great definition for a good shape, one which I teach in all my classes:

“A good shape is two different dimensions (longer than it is wide)

placed obliquely on the page (not completely horizontal or vertical)

with interlocking edges.”

The interlocking edges part means that the edge of the shape kind of interacts with the background like pieces of a puzzle – they don’t just boringly meet each other in a lot of hard, straight lines. Notice how the aspen foliage in “First in Line” follows this definition. The masses of foliage are also, for the most part, different sizes. :>)

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it!


Tip of the day: Aspens need contrast in a painting to stand out!

More contrast behind the main aspen helps make him the star!
More contrast behind the main aspen helps make him the star!

Sometimes your photos of aspens will not have much contrast, so you have to add it by adding some dark shapes behind the aspens. The background of this watercolor didn’t have hardly any darks in the photos I worked from, so I had to add them. Weave the darks through in an interesting and varied pattern. Another idea is to make the background a solid dark with variety in the darks. Even spatter or salt dropped into a wet background will add interest. Another idea is to suggest pine tree trunks and some reds or red-oranges (I like Burnt Sienna) for variety in the dark greens.