I’ve had a number of requests asking: How do I paint snow? I have my ideas but why not go to an expert?! This is where my guest steps in. Diane Fechenbach paints snow scenes where you can feel the cold nipping at your face and hands, smell the freshness of new-fallen snow, hear the various sounds of snow being crushed beneath your feet, shiver in the cool shadows, or feel the softness of melting snow.
Don’t know Diane’s work? Here’s a taster!
Before I hand the blog over to Diane, here’s a wee something about her.
Diane Fechenbach Bio
Diane Fechenbach is passionate about dramatic light and shadow and clean, saturated colour. Her realistic and contemporary images have been featured in magazines and in juried exhibitions across the United States, have received national and international awards and recognition, and are in corporate and private collections throughout North America.
The award-winning Colorado artist, juror, and instructor is a Master Signature and Signature member of numerous art organizations. You can see more of her work on her website.
Warm Up to Snow
Pastel is the perfect medium to make the snow in your paintings sparkle. Whether working in your studio from photographs, or – egad! – painting en plein air, here are a few tips on warming up to the subject of snow.
First, a word about materials. My go-to pastels are made by Terry Ludwig, Sennelier, Richeson, and Girault. However, I have – and use – everything. A variety of brands are included in the examples shown here so you can see that it is the COLOR rather than the brand that is important. Every manufacturer has a range of colors and values suitable for your snow scenes. Use whichever brand you prefer.
I paint on every surface that is out there, primarily UART. Occasionally, failed watercolor paintings become pastel paintings with the application of pastel primer or sanded gesso to the surface. Again, find something that you are comfortable using.
Now to the paintings!
Too often winter scenes are glaring white and drab gray. The following are pointers on making your winter scenes sing. They include:
- atmospheric perspective
- warm (yes, warm) and cool color palettes
- complementary and analogous color schemes
- nuanced colors
The type of light on your snow is important in deciding how to handle the scene. On a sunny day, the color of the light is pretty easy to sort out: winter skies are often a clear, brilliant blue, therefore, snow in sunlight is warm; snow in shadow is cool because it is lit from the sky above.
See Fig 1 for samples of sunny snow choices. The colors range from warm cream on the left to cooler blue on the right. These all “read” as white, although none of them actually are.
Fig 2 has examples of shadows on a sunny day. Again, the colors are warmer on the left and shift to cool on the right.
In the painting Winter Skirt, the snow moves in and out of the shadow in the foreground and recedes into the background.
In Dancing Shadows, shadows move across the sun-drenched surface of the snow as well as recede to the edge of the trees in the background.
On overcast days, or times when the sun is not fully above the horizon, look for the softer blue-gray of the sky and rich neutrals for shadows.
Fig. 3 and 4 show examples of more grayed tones for the “light” snow, and grayer colors in the shadows. Notice also that the overcast shadows have darker values that are the result of the dimmer ambient light.
Lastly, remember that sunrise and sunset create a warm glow like that in Winter Heat. This painting is a good example of the neutralized blue of the snow in the shadow of the trees.
2. Atmospheric Perspective
We all know the rules of Atmospheric Perspective: closer objects are warmer, have more texture and harder edges; distant objects are cooler with minimal texture, soft edges, and less value contrast. So it is with snow.
In the paintings, New Year Blues and Frozen, the sunlit snow in the foreground is a pale buttery cream; the snow in the background is pale blue and delicate pink. Nothing is flat white. The effect is that some of the snow comes forward and some of the snow recedes into the distance.
Atmospheric Perspective is also an important factor in shadows. In Bear Creek Light snow shadows are blue-green in the foreground, changing to blue with some violet, and becoming a more neutralized blue toward the back. The sunny snow follows the same rules where the snow in the foreground is light yellow and snow in the far background is actually pinkish/lavender.
3. Warm and Cool Palette
Paintings can often be classified as mostly warm or mostly cool. This is true of paintings with snow. Late Light, Lewis Road is a warm painting. Even the sky is a slightly greenish blue (rather than Robin’s egg blue) and the plums and grays in the far background are warm. Cold Sunshine (seen at the top of this post), however, is a cool painting. Even the sky is cold.
4. Colour Schemes
As you decide on your palette, take advantage of complementary color schemes (color families that are on opposite sides of the color wheel) or analogous color schemes (color families next to each other on the color wheel). Winter scenes lend themselves to complementary blue/orange palettes.
Look for drama in an analogous palette like that in Saplings in the Snow. The palette in this painting ranges from yellow to orange, and red-violet to violet, all of which are neighbors on the same side of the color wheel.
5. Nuanced Colours
While it is tempting to use your brightest blue and most dazzling white to capture snow colors, too much is, well, too much of a good thing. Balance these saturated color notes with well-chosen, nuanced neutrals.
Winter is full of interesting grays in bare branches, dormant bushes, tree trunks. But gray does not mean a shade of black. Instead, look for rich, neutralized versions of the colors you are already using in your painting. This creates overall harmony and a wonderful depth to the painting and allows bright notes of color to really pop in comparison.
In the paintings The Way Home and February Shadows, the use of neutralized, or “grayed” plum, orange, and blue color notes let the sizzling brights sing without derailing the painting.
The underpainting for The Way Home (Fig. 5) establishes the warm palette. Tree shadows across the path use atmospheric perspective to change from a greenish-blue in the foreground to cobalt blue and, finally, a soft violet-blue in the far background.
February Shadows concentrates the most vivid color notes in the foreground. As the scene recedes into the distance, the bright green-blue of the foreground shadow becomes a softer, cooler blue. Even the red-orange of the bushes becomes a soft salmon and lavender at the rear of the picture plane.
Pulling It All Together
Let’s pull all of this together in two final paintings – Willows in Winter and Middle Fork Afternoon.
In my part of the country, willows along rivers and in wetlands show off orange-red branches in the winter. A sunny winter day creates a wonderful complementary color palette of blue and orange. In Willows in Winter, the color emphasis is on the crystal blue sky and the red-orange-yellow willows and underbrush. Middle Fork Afternoon is all about the shadow in the ditch in the foreground.
In both paintings, the rich, vibrant blues and saturated yellow-orange bushes are balanced with a full range of grays in blue, violet, brown, and tan. These rich neutrals allow the stronger, complementary blues and oranges to take center stage without taking over. As these bright colors appear closer to the edges of the painting and toward the back of the picture plane, they, too, become less vibrant and more neutralized. The foreground snow is a creamy white changing to pink and lavender along the far horizon.
The next time snow is in the forecast, make a cup of tea, get out your richest pastels and warm up to the wonderful possibilities of snow.
Sooooo are you ready to paint snow? Do you have a better idea about choosing colours to depict those “white” scenes? Diane and I would love to know!
If you have questions for Diane, please be sure to leave those along with any comments.
Until next time,