Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Crown Hill Aspen


11/12/22 Crown Hill neighborhood

In other regions where deciduous trees dominate, autumn color is big. In fact, leaf peeping is an important part of the tourism industry. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s quieter (thank goodness people don’t visit just to see the trees! Bad enough in the summer when we can’t go to our own Pike Place Market due to all the mobbing tourists [yes, I can be a grumpy native]). We have plenty of color if you know where to look, but the deciduous trees tend to grow in small stands or mixed in with evergreens.

Driving through Greenwood and Crown Hill, admiring the late color, I pulled in when I spotted a traffic circle’s fiery aspen. As I sketched, it struck me as a quintessential Pacific Northwest autumn scene: The deciduous trees might get all the attention during their brief time of glory, but it’s the quiet, dark conifer standing in the background, year in, year out, that gives this showy aspen something to glow against. As a sketching task, it would have been much harder to make this tree stand out against a light sky or more brilliant trees.

Palette notes: I’m happy that I had my Heavy Equipment Yellow (also known as Gold Cadmium Yellow) pencil in my bag; the aspen just wouldn’t be right without it. (If I hadn’t had it, I probably would have driven further down the block and sketched the maple you see at the next traffic circle instead, which was more orange.) With cool violet dominating the shadows, this sketch turned out to be a mostly complementary palette without even thinking about it.

For the most part, my autumn secondary triad palette has been working out well – so well, in fact, that I started to wonder if I could go all year with it. The cool, dark violet mixed with the cool green I am using (most of the shadows in this sketch) make a terrific neutral that I love. But as this sketch shows, when yellow is critical, it can’t be mixed or faked. And I definitely miss red at critical times, too. Interestingly, I haven’t missed blue at all and still don’t.

An easy solution would be to stick with my current palette – a warm and a cool of each of the three secondaries – and then add just yellow and magenta (as my only red). That could get me through nine months of the year. During the height of summer when nature’s saturated hues demand primary triads, I could toss in cyan. Unlike the secondaries, which seem to require a warm and a cool of each, all I need of the primaries are the CMYK hues. Nine pencils – that’s a darn good limited yet unlimited palette! (Remind me that I said this when I start piling minor convenience colors back into my bag.)


  1. I think this one turned out great! The yellow looks so nice against those shadows, and I like the sound of your limited palette. In gouache, I also use a cool purple and cool green mix for shadow colors. I guess it transcends mediums!

    1. Thanks! Yes, those cool shades are ideal for shadows!

  2. You really did a great job of making the aspen tree stand out. Glad you had that yellow with you!

    1. I'm happy that I had yellow, too... it can't be faked!


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