Winter Inspiration for Artists

Winter Canal field sketch (pastel, 10x12)

Now that we have officially entered the winter season in the northern hemisphere—even though it may have felt like winter for the entire last month for many of you—it is time to embrace what the season has to offerthe landscape painter. Different regions provide variety, but the farther north one finds themselves the more pronounced the personality of winter becomes. The leaves are off the trees, exposing the form of the naked limbs. Flora is dead or dormant, producing a palette of earth tones. Snow and ice often blanket the terrain, simplifying Mother Nature into a sculpture of marble. Light arrives later in the day and retreats earlier in the evening. All of these tendencies play their part in influencing our creative mood during this time of year.

It is a curious fact that most of us find it hard to paint passionately beyond our physical region and season when in studio. As inspired as we may have been after visiting a location, the motivation is frequently lost after being home a short time. The high desert region of northern New Mexico is a favorite subject of mine but once I find myself back in the fertile valleys of southern Oregon, the inspiration is lost. Seasonal changes can have a similar effect. Even if I am working from an en plein air sketch as reference, retaining enthusiasm for a brilliant summer scene can be difficult when back in the studio during the throes of winter.

As intellectual as many of us like to make the process of painting, we are sensitive creatures, and our environments have a profound effect on our moods and a painting’s outcome. To paint well during these seasonal changes, it is imperative to make a personal connection to the season—one that becomes a concept providing the purpose behind what you paint.

Just as different music tempos can set a physical and psychological mood, so too can the season. When it comes to winter, Andrew Wyeth perhaps put it best when he said, “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” I totally agree.

As a pastelist, the season lends itself to the medium. The subtle earth tones encompassed within winter’s palette are easily facilitated with the variety of neutral tones available from many pastel manufacturers. The shape of a pastel stick easily produces the pulsating exposed textures of barren nature. The brilliance and luminosity of fresh snow on a sunlit winter’s day is easily represented by the crispness of pigment in its pure form.

As landscape painters with nearly three more months of winter ahead of us, it is advisable to embrace all its charms and enjoy the quiet introspective qualities it can provide. Soon spring will emerge with its vibrant color and promise of renewal, offering a whole new aesthetic to explore.


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