View Full Version : Christmas View painting & Snow Article

Deborah Secor
12-05-2006, 11:17 PM
This is a painting I did as a demo for my students on how to paint snow.


I added the red because it just looked like a Christmas scene and the trees needed decoration! I may yet change it... It's small, only 12x6".

Here's an article I wrote a long time ago on snow:

Snow's startling whiteness shifts the values of the landscape painting, forcing the artist to paint the ground as the lightest plane in the picture, rather than the sky, and to structure the painting carefully to achieve a clean, bold whiteness. Although many think of snow as a simple subject to paint, it presents special challenges to pastelists because of the medium’s inherent tendency to blend on the paper when applied in layers and the fact that colors which are not crisply applied and left untouched can become muddy looking. To avoid these pitfalls takes forethought and planning, as well as knowledge in handling the medium. But these same pitfalls can be used to achieve striking results in the hands of the experienced painter in pastels.

The first hazard the artist encounters in painting snow is that of value shift. It seems simple enough: in a snow painting the land becomes the lightest plane, the sky is medium-light and the trees are dark. But does the fact that the land plane becomes lightest perhaps force the sky to become a medium value? The sky is still the same light value it has always been, but the ground is often lighter in value when covered with a fresh blanket of snow. Value relationships are the key.

Another casualty of the shift in values is often the colors in the snow. It’s very easy to see the snow scene as overly ‘black and white’, neglecting the chance for surprising color, as well as simplifying the value range far too much. This can result in over-strong contrast, which omits medium-dark and medium-light values entirely. Photographic prints, especially those taken by amateur photographers, often validate oversimplification and lead the artist astray. Because cameras average the light coming into the lens, in all but the most expert of hands a print will be overly dark in the dark areas or overly light in the light areas. This means that all detail and nuance of color is lost in the shadows or washed away by the light. Be sure to spend time observing the values and colors of snow, not relying on a photograph to portray it properly for you.

As you step outside on a cold, snowy day you might first notice the whiteness of the snow, and then perhaps the color of the sky. Spend time looking for the subtleties of color in the snow. Generally you will see warm colors in the sunlight and cool colors in the shadows, though this may not always be true but depends on the scene. When the light is one color the shadows are usually the opposite, but the color depends on many variables.

Remember aerial perspective holds true. Distance flavors all colors, strewing the light around the landscape so that colors become lighter in value and cooler in color as they travel away from the viewer’s, except white. As white recedes in space it becomes slightly darker and the color of the sky filters into it, while it remains its whitest in the near foreground.

Shadows on snow will shift with distance, generally from blue-green in the fore, to lavender in the middle ground, to pure blue in the distance, as the air progressively filters out the yellow and red. Snow is so reflective that these shadow colors are often dependent on the color of the sky. Go out and look for a shadow crossing new fallen snow. See how the sky color is captured there, dark beneath its source and lightening slightly as it travels away. Snow is extremely reflective.

Because it is light in color, snow reflects a greater percentage of light. Consider a snow-covered hillside that forms a soft bowl at its foot. The shadowed face may be of subtly different colors, depending on which way it faces, because the sky reflected in it will vary slightly depending on its direction. The sky is somewhat darker at the zenith and paler at the horizon, as well as slightly warmer in the quadrant near the sun and cooler away from the sun. This means that the colors in shadows on snow may be some permutation of warm or cool, very pale or somewhat darker, and range in color from blue-green to lavender to pure blue depending on the distance from the viewer. This allows for exciting color possibilities in both the sunlight and shadows on snow.

After a heavy snowfall, the outlines of objects become muffled and soft, blanketed with a thick, velvety whiteness that mutes hard edges. The barn becomes a giant pillow pointing its corner skyward, the car a marshmallow shape in the hollow of the driveway. Trees become weighed down by the wetness of the snow. Look for the way the branches are pushed down until the snow atop them becomes part of the bank beneath. Don’t miss the heaviness of snow. Also find places where the rich, dark soil punctuates the snow as it begins to melt, forming deep pools around plants and grasses. Concentrate on these edges, which are crisp where they touch the ground but remain rounded above. Be especially careful in places where dark colors reside in front of, therefore painted on top of, light ones. It’s best not to overwork these spots too much, which is bound to cause muddy-looking patches. Plan your painting carefully so that you can use one deliberate stroke of color, then stop while it is fresh.

Without any shadow, drifts are seen as subtle variations of warm and cool. Look for the crisp line along the top edge and the soft slide of snow, like a mountain in miniature. See how you can define this slope using colors that are layered and softly blended together to create the shadow side, adding a line of light color where the sun blazes. If there is a cornice where the snow has blown over the top and frozen in place or a cast shadow crossing the drift, you have an added chance to define the shape of the drift with color, blending and line.

(c) 2003 Deborah Christensen Secor
Originally printed in The Pastel Journal

Y'know, reading old articles is a lot like looking at old paintings--there's good and bad, but generally things I'd change now! Not concepts, just wording. Oh well, I hope you find it helpful...


12-06-2006, 12:45 AM
wow ... i'm going to copy this article to have on hand when i try a snow pic ... which i've had intentions to do for a long long time !! ... just need to get out and find myself a good reference ... one that *speaks to me* ... :)

12-06-2006, 01:54 AM
Good info Deborah, I was looking at the snow this week, thinking I should try it someday...

Karen Margulis
12-06-2006, 07:11 AM
Beautiful painting Deborah! And thank you so much for the article...I have to print that out. I needed it last week when I did my Aspen in the snow painting!!! I'll have to relook at it and see if I did OK with the snow.
Thanks again!

Merethe T
12-06-2006, 07:19 AM
Wow from me too....beautiful work! You make it look so easy to do...I love the harmony created by the colors,they work so well together. Will take a closer look at how you use warm/cold colors, and how you use temperature and value of the colors to create depth and distance. I've copied the article too, gonna study it closer later on...

There's always so much to learn from your posts, you're a real gem! Thank you for sharing your talent and knowledge....

Oh, I like the red in the trees by the way, it don't look to "christmasy" to me, but adds a bit of sparkle and life to the painting....

Mary Brigid
12-06-2006, 08:47 AM
Thank you for posting the article Deborah. Very informative. And of course I love the painting
Mary Brigid

Deborah Secor
12-06-2006, 11:39 AM
I hope I get to see a whole bunch of net new snow paintings now! :heart:

Happy to be of service. I'm now wondering if I should update the info in the article. It's all good, sound stuff but I want to digest it and add more thoughts. You never know, it may become another article, or at least be included in the new, expanded edition of my landscape workbook...


nana b
12-06-2006, 11:51 AM
Deborah, this absolutely pulls you in, I love it and the reds you put in as well . Please don't change it!:clap:

12-06-2006, 12:21 PM
A wonderful painting and a terrific article, Deborah. The article is beautifully written; the technical detail is presented in a way that's easily understood. I always learn so much from you. Thanks for sharing this with us!

12-06-2006, 09:15 PM
A beautiful painting, as always from you. I appreciate you posting the article, very informative.

Deborah Secor
12-07-2006, 12:16 AM
I hope I get to see a whole bunch of net new snow paintings now!
Translation: "...NEAT new snow paintings." (Even I had to stop and figure that one out and I wrote it!)

I'm glad you're finding the article helpful. Snow is fun to paint, but it can be rather demanding. My beginning students often think because the photos aren't terribly colorful that painting snow will be easier than other landscape subjects, but I've found that snow is harder than it looks to paint. It's a great skill-builder, however, when you're ready to practice matching assorted colors to one value area. I usually put it in towards the end of the session, along about class six or seven, so that people have had a chance to learn how to handle the medium first. I often see really beautiful snow paintings resulting!


12-07-2006, 01:01 PM
:thumbsup: WOW! I had you up on a pedestal for painting 'clouds' but just raised the pedestal a few feet to also include 'snow'! WOW - that snow is the prettiest I've ever seen - when we get it, it gets dirty almost instantly, therefore you only need 'black' and 'white'!

Seriously Deborah, it's a beautiful painting! I bet you didn't use any 'buggy' pastels on this one!:lol: ........the'bluefish'

Bill Foehringer
12-07-2006, 03:59 PM
Thanks for posting your article about snow! Much appreciated. I did a snow painting last Sunday, 12 deg F. I'll post a little snow demo soon. Bill

Bhavana Vijay
12-08-2006, 12:14 AM
Its so generous of you to share the article Deborah. Very enlightening! Love your painting too, it was great to keep going back to your painting to see the concepts you wrote about.