Painting Snow with Watercolor and Acrylic | Tips from Stephen Quiller

Stephen Quiller shares his tips for painting snowy landscapes in watercolor and acrylic in this excerpt from the January/February 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Snow Light in Watermedia
by Stephen Quiller

I live in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado at an elevation of 9,000 feet; winter is long, and it’s actually my favorite season. I build my own cross-country trails and sketch and ski most late afternoons. And from November 1 to March 1, I’m in my studio with unobstructed painting time. I find that a good covering of snow simplifies the landscape, and fresh snow creates beautiful, rhythmic patterns on the aspens and evergreens.

Late Spring Snow acrylic painting by Stephen Quiller, paint a snow landscape

In late spring we often get a very wet, sinking snow that melts as soon as it hits the ground. The snowflakes are large and move straight down because there’s no wind. The atmosphere, as a consequence, is damp and gray. I was driving into our small town of Creede when I pulled over and did a sketch. From that sketch I did this large painting on Aquabord, Late Spring Snow (acrylic, 26x36).

Each painting seeks its own path; there isn’t a formula for simulating winter light. The time of day and the atmospheric conditions affect how I respond—how I use color and how the painting goes. I’m less concerned about getting the literal effect of snow light right and more interested in how I feel about the light.

February, View from My Studio watermedia painting by Stephen Quiller, paint snow landscape

I see this view on winter evenings during the short walk from my studio to my home. The sky is alive with colored stars, and the light in the cabin is brilliant against the black patterns of the spruces. There’s a magenta undertone to the dark shadows, and the snow seems a mix of green and violet in February, View from My Studio (watermedia, 23x34).

I’m painting my response to a particular experience and place. I don’t go out looking for a subject but, as I ski, hike or drive along a road, I let the subject find me. If I look for a subject, the result usually seems contrived, but if the subject grabs me as I ski by—and I take the time to sketch and write down notes of what just inspired me—the resulting painting is usually much more interesting.

Make it Personal
My advice to painters wanting to paint snow is simply to take time to get to know and see it deeply; then paint it your way. I’d suggest that you work from sketches and notes taken on site and not from photos. The resulting work will be more personal.

Stephen Quiller is the author of six art instruction books published by Watson-Guptill. To find his workshop schedules and to order his books and videos, go to


Stephen Quiller, landscape painting instruction
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