How to Really See Snow and Paint It Realistically in Acrylic

In order to paint realistic snow we have to be able to analyze what we’re actually seeing in order to recreate the texture of snow on our painting surface, and acrylic artist Brian LaSaga has tips to help us do just that. We featured LaSaga’s work in the Winter 2016 issue of Acrylic Artist so check it out if you’d like to read a full-length feature on how he recreates realistic texture his landscape paintings.

In learning about LaSaga’s painting process and his life one thing was clear—he spends a lot of time in the snow. Like any subject you want to paint successfully, you have to understand the subject on a deep level. And for LaSaga that means truly seeing snow—its many colors and textures.

Winter Relic by Brian LaSaga, Acrylic Artist

Winter Relic by Brian LaSaga, Acrylic Artist

It’s Not Simply White

“Snow really isn’t white. Snow is a collection of colors and the colors can be quite ranging. Just like anything else we paint, the color of snow depends on the lighting, time of day and neighboring objects,” LaSaga explains. “If you have a hard time thinking of snow as anything other than a large white mass, take a few photos and turn them upside down, then crop the image to reveal only the snow. Now study the colors. What do you see,” LaSaga challenges us.

When it’s time to paint snow, the colors LaSaga reaches for reflect his thoughtful study of snow. “I don’t use much, if any, yellow paint in my snow when painting a gray, overcast day.” Instead he uses burnt sienna, dioxazine purple, Mars black, phthalo blue, titanium white and ultramarine blue. When he’s depicting a day that isn’t gray and overcast, he uses yellow as well as any neighboring object’s color reflected in the snow. Finally, any color used in painting the sky is also used in painting the snow.

Seeing Beyond the Surface

Our first glance at any landscape we’re going to paint takes in its entirety—the details of the foreground and the vastness of the far horizon. There is no wrong or right way to see something, and it’s in how we interpret what we see that leads to successful, realist recreations of all the textures of nature, including snow. LaSaga says, “We all perceive things differently, and it’s how we perceive them that dictates the final result.”

Recreating Three-Dimensional Texture

The next challenge in recreating realistic snow is understanding its many textures. “Snow is not flat, smooth and white. Snow has great texture created by disturbances from the sun, wind, rain and thawing and freezing cycles,” LaSaga explains. “No matter what I paint, I’m more interested in the structure of my subject and each element in the work. Color is secondary. Detail is useless, or shall I say impossible, without structure and it’s very important to understand foreshortening.”

Painting What We See

“I basically paint what I see from my reference material and photos,” LaSaga says. “I paint in the structure and larger shapes of snow before I ever think about any detail. Snow also lies on top of objects so I paint the snow as if it were land, small mountains, hills and valleys. I’m always thinking in 3D. Like I always say, it’s also about feeling what you paint as well. I spend a lot of time outdoors experiencing nature, even in the dead of winter.”

 

Now that we have you interested in painting nature, check out this video, and learn how to paint foliage! 

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