Yellowstone Aspens in Autumn: exploring the background tones

Yellowstone Aspens watercolor © Sandy Haight

A trip to Yellowstone in mid September brought me up close and personal with the turning of the Aspen leaves to all shades of yellows and oranges.  Their bright colors can’t help but make you feel sunny as they flicker in the breezes.  Getting close, the masses of color aren’t the only theme as the spaces in between the sprigs take on more importance.

I used this composition to teach a glazing process for creating colorful neutral backgrounds to my fall students at Bellevue College. I layered a thin flat glaze of Aureolin yellow, followed by thin glazes of Rose Madder, then Cobalt blue after each layer dried to create a luminous gray. This was too pale and flat alone for my interest, but made a foundation for adding more color wet on wet to blend and flow to enhance the neutral foundation.  After 6-10 layers of color here’s what the background looked like before I even started painting the main attraction….the leaves.

Luminous neutral background washes © Sandy Haight

Luminous neutral background washes-Yellowstone Aspens © Sandy Haight

In the beginning I masked out the leaves so I could brush the background colors freely over the whole surface.  This image shows the mask removed, the veins sketched in and ready for color with additional masking fluid added to the lightest areas preserving the white of the paper. Still, when the leaves were painted, the background needed to have more blues and greens to tie in the green leaf in the lower right to make it feel like it belonged to the painting, so more layers were carefully added to unify the painting. What do you think? I think it works and I’ll add it to my watercolor gallery on and enjoy the rest of the yellow Seattle autumn.

One Response to “Yellowstone Aspens in Autumn: exploring the background tones”

  1. Patti King says:

    Sandy, this painting is gorgeous. I am glad to know more about the complexity of watercolor technique. Hope to see more.

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