Painting Winter

Early in December, five students gathered to tackle the painting of winter snow scenes. I think they were pleasantly surprised to discover that it's easier than they thought! Here are some of the key ideas from the lesson:

  • Snow scenes work best with fewer layers of pastel, to allow texture of underpainting to show through, adding realism
  • Be clear about your composition—try out thumbnails to select the best pattern and shape
  • Do a value study to work out pattern of darks and lights before you begin
  • Design the pattern of darks: most snow scenes are primarily light with a little dark—use the darks to direct the viewer’s eye path
  • Underpaint in blues and purples under deep snow; in warm ochres, siennas, browns where brush or grasses will peek through the snow
  • Create a strong abstract pattern
  • Snow in shadow is warm blue or purple
  • Snow in sunlight is often warm white or cream
  • Add pale pinks, yellows, turquoise, lavenders for variety
  • Layer heaviest pastel where the snow is deep, in sunlight—an opaque layer will stand out from the other, thinner areas
  • Where sun and shadow meet, add a thin line of turquoise between the blue and white, and blend gently for added glow
  • When painting light snow or hoarfrost, let the dark/warm underpainting do the work of creating texture
    • Glaze pale pastel (white, pale tints) gently, and preferably ONCE over the underpainting
    • Use your strokes to indicate upright weeds, grasses; use snow colours to cut into dark to create stalks etc.
    • Use edge of dark colours back into the white to create more texture or refine shapes
    • Add warmth with willows, poplars, dogwoods, corn stubble etc.; completely “cold” paintings are seldom appealing!

And here are the steps in the demo painting I discussed, Thin Ice: