My friend, Mari, asked me the other day, via Facebook, if I had been painting snow. Yes, I have. I have been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time out in the snow with my snowshoes on. But painting white snow is a whole different ball game. I have discovered that in translating the white snow I see all around me onto a two dimensional surface, it has to go through a transformation before it can make visual sense on the canvas. The snow can't be white on a two dimensional surface and look right. It won't have any sense of depth, or rather: you won't be able to tell what's in front, and what is in back. Your eye will swim about looking for clues that anchor it to what your brain knows to be "right." Below, you will see an exercise I did a few days ago.
I first made an ink wash to get the dark and light areas, aka the values, to look like the scene had some depth:
Doing an ink wash first, gives me clues as to how to go about the painting... kind of like a road map.
Then, so as not to get too hung up on the level of my skill set, I painted the scene in oils, but did not use a brush. I only used one pallet knife and the paints:
Using a pallet knife meant I couldn't get my panties in a bunch if the branch I put down didn't quite go in the direction I wanted it to. The surface, which was actually a gessoed board, was no bigger than 8 x 10 inches. The small size of the surface , in conjunction with the flat pallet knife, worked against perfection, but it also gave me the ability to only focus on color. This was when I realized that I was not painting white snow, but rather colored snow.
The next step I took was to do the same scene in pastel, on a sanded board that was no bigger than the oil painting.
Keeping all the variables to a minimum teaches me how to deal with things more methodically. Doing this step by step, allowed me to see that all those little snowflakes on the mountainside are like little mirrors, all bunched up together, reflecting the world around them. The snow in the far distance reflected the light that was blocked by the clouds. The snow in the closer distance was reflecting the blue sky, above. The snow closest to my right had the most direct sunlight on it, so i painted that snow pink. See what I mean? Although it seems like a slower method, it allows me to have a depth of learning that my get-to-it personality desperately benefits from.
The paintings are called The Tree That Greets Me. They are of the first tree I see when I turn into the McCoy Nordic Park for snowshoeing and cross country skiing up at Beaver Creek, here in Colorado. It is a wonderfully weird Aspen tree in that because it isn't in amongst a grove of other Aspens, it's branches seem to have more freedom and personality. Once I make a turn at this tree, the downhill ski trails are left behind and the mountain becomes mine.
There are some things in the pallet knife painting that I prefer... like the life of the light in the clouds. The pastel painting for me feels better in the branch area of the tree, and also all of the shadow areas. I may attempt this whole scene one more time with a pallet knife, again, but on a large canvas. We will see.
Hope you enjoyed the little lesson I gave myself on painting white snow that, as it turns out, is anything but white.
Until next time,