Here on the West Coast, the rain falls in a face-slap of plump, heavy drops. In pictures, though, winter is a silent, sensual swoosh of purple and cream with moody golden-hour skies and blobs of highlight dancing between long shadows. Here are a few ideas:
Painting snow is the best way to practice the art of looking. Forget about what you think you know about the white stuff and try to see what’s really there. Throw yourself into mastering the art of warm and cool associations.
Snow almost never need be white. Warm when it recedes, purple as a middle ground and dark as can be at the fore — see how deeply you can exaggerate its contrasts.
Where are the patterns? Tree wells, sky pockets, sunbeams; meltwater, snowdust, sleet sharps; glacier tracks and shimmering tarns. And what colour are they?
Snow is really the story of what is being reflected. If the sky is dark, so will be the large, reflective patches of snow. If the snow is clinging to the side of a mountain scree, it might be reflecting a low cool sun or another bright peak. If the snow is blanketing a pasture or wood, perhaps the red jacket of a hiker or the side of a red barn is spreading pink.
The highest highlight is whiter than white and never chalky from the tube. Mixed ever so slightly with a touch of Cadmium orange or yellow, it will dance against all those cool greys and blues.
By taking your sky down a notch in value, you punch up your snow. All your design can come from this contrast, especially when you add warm against cool and vibrate with daring side-by-sides — what Dad called “equal intensity lay-bys.”
Have you tried a glaze? Mix a spot of phthalo blue with water and medium and pull it across the whole picture with a rag or fan brush. Coming to light is how you go back in, here and there, with true warms. Don’t forget to let your strokes be characteristic of the thing you’re painting — snow.
All of this is really an opportunity to be graphic.
Finally, if all else fails, work lean to fat. Snow is fat and sensual; handling it this way also keeps your whites from getting muddy and invites impasto play.
PS: “After you’ve painted a couple of thousand paintings, then you can begin.” (Carl Rungius)
It sifts from Leaden Sieves –
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road –
It makes an even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain –
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again –
It reaches to the Fence –
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces –
It deals Celestial Vail
To Stump, and Stack – and Stem –
A Summer’s empty Room –
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them –
It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen –
Then stills its Artisans – like Ghosts –
Denying they have been
(Emily Dickinson, It Sifts From Leaden Sieves, 1862)
“As our eyes grow accustomed to sight, they armour themselves against wonder.” (Leonard Cohen)
Do you feel stuck in a rut? Need time to reflect on transitions? Long for an extended art-play date? Join Ellie Harold for a unique expressive art-making retreat for 12 women in colonial San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Re-establish flow in your life through painting, movement, soulful discussion, and a wealth of cultural, visual and culinary delights. (Everyone has their own room!)
Art practice will encourage intuitive use of color and expressive mark-making with emphasis on process rather than technique. Materials provided or you can bring your own.
An inspired facilitator and prolific oil painter, Ellie invites all experience levels (including none) to participate in Painting for Pleasure.
My aim as a painter is to bring to life a slice of the world as I experience it. Light, color and form are my vocabulary.