A Wintry Mood
Don’t put away your winter palette just yet. Why not embrace the last bit of winter weather by translating it to your surface with a wintry, moody feel?
Depending on your color palette, a snow scene can have a frosty feel or a warm glow. In this quick tutorial, artist Geoff Kersey demonstrates how to paint a warmer winter landscape.
Ever since I began painting watercolor landscapes more than 25 years ago, I’ve enjoyed painting snow scenes. I think this is partly because I’m attracted to the simplifying effect of the white cloak across the landscape. I like the way the sky colors are echoed through the thin shadows and the contrast between the snow and the rich winter darks of trees and hedgerows.
We all know that snow appears white, but as you can see from the following example, there are numerous techniques and color schemes you can use to depict its effect in your paintings. Below, I’ll demonstrate how to create a snow-filled woodland landscape using a warmer winter palette.
How to Paint a Snowy Scene with a Warm Winter Palette
I began by drawing the outlines of the scene using a 2B pencil, taking care not to make the lines too dark. During this pre-painting stage, I often fade the lines for the most distant parts of the scene by gently going over them with a putty rubber.
This is very much a wet-into-wet stage. I began by mixing a selection of colors: a thin wash of aureolin; thin washes of vermilion and cobalt blue; a slightly thicker gray mixed from cobalt blue and vermilion, with a touch of burnt sienna; and a rich, dark green of a much thicker consistency made from viridian, French ultramarine and burnt sienna.
I wet the entire background, except for the path, with clean water, using a 1-inch flat brush. I then put in the washes with a No. 16 round brush.
It’s vital at this stage to leave the color very light at the point where the path bends out of view, so that later on, this bright light leads the viewer’s eye along the path. I left the path itself as untouched paper, apart from the foreground, which I tinted with a thin wash of vermilion and a hint of the aureolin wash.
I put in the winter trees using the gray mix. Then, I strengthened this color gradually by adding more paint, as the trees progress from the distance to the middle distance.
I painted the larger trees in the middle distance using a rich dark brown mixed from burnt sienna and French ultramarine. I painted the distant trees with a No. 2 round brush, switching to a No. 4 for the wider, nearer trees; however, even on the nearest/widest trees, I used the fine point of the No. 2 to paint the fine branches.
I always think it’s a good idea to mix shadow color. Try using the same blue as used in the sky to give the painting cohesion and continuity. I mixed a thin wash of cobalt blue for the shadows and brushed them in. I did this starting at the distant part of the path, and gradually increased the width of the stroke as I proceeded to the foreground.
In a scene like this, shadows are a great way to describe to the viewer the contours of the landscape. For instance, note how the shadows cross the path, describing the slope of the banks and the slight dip in the middle. I slightly increased the density of the wash for the shadows in the foreground. Not by too much, though, as it was essential that the shadow washes be transparent.
It’s interesting to see how the vermilion wash, already on the paper, warms the color of the blue glazed over it. This helps create the feeling of distance. Warm colors come forward and cool colors recede — a rule that’s always worth keeping in mind.
Using three quite strong mixtures — a purple-gray mixed from cobalt blue and vermilion, more of the burnt sienna and French ultramarine dark brown mixture, and a rusty brown color made from aureolin and burnt sienna — I placed the colors on both sides of the path. I used the side of a well-worn No. 4 round brush to create the broken, irregular shapes that suggest foliage protruding through the snow.
The final touch was to drybrush a bit of white gouache onto the dark green bushes. I repeated this among the foliage on the banks and here and there on the tree trunks and branches to suggest a light frosting of snow. The gouache used carefully and sparingly, added another dimension to the final painting, titled Woodland Path.
A version of this article was featured in Watercolor Artist. You can find more of Kersey’s warm and cool winter palette tips here.
Meet Geoff Kersey
As a professional landscape artist who works primarily in watercolor, U.K.-based Geoff Kersey shares his love for the medium through his instructional articles, books, videos and workshops. Learn more about Kersey and his artwork by visiting his website.