Painting in the Snow!
It’s cold, it’s snowy. It’s wonderful! For painter and car-life-art-life adventurer Emilie Lee, trekking through Montana in blizzard season is the perfect opportunity to share more art hacks with us. This time it is winter painting hacks, so you can make the most of the searing light of a snow-covered landscape. Plus hacks for staying warm while you do it!
Get Out There, Safely
You can create a winter painting in your backyard or trek via 4-wheel drive to a mountainous destination. When Emilie travels to more isolated places, she still tries to keep to public areas or close to main access roads. When and where available, she checks into ranger stations before going off the beaten path and let’s someone know where she’ll be and when she will be back.
Gearing Up Tips from Emilie
Dress warmly, and then add another thermal and stuff an extra pair (or two) of socks in your bag, just in case.
Wear a lot of layers. You can always take layers off as you get warmer, but you can’t take off what you don’t have to start with.
Wear big boots. Snow drifts can be deep. Make sure your bootlaces are tied tight and there aren’t any gaps where snow can get through. Smack and slap off any snow that clings to your boots once you are at your painting site so the snow doesn’t melt on you.
Hands and toe warmers are a must. Stuff them in your pockets, gloves and toes of your boots. They last several hours, but add extras to your bag to swap out if they run out of heat.
Instead of bulky gloves, Emilie says she winter paints with thin glove liners on. Fingerless gloves are an option too but beware of chilblains sneaking up on your fingertips.
Emilie also brings a thermos of hot water, just water, to sip on. It keeps her warm and hydrated.
Where to Paint
With winter painting, Emilie is all about the path of least resistance. Don’t head to the top of the mountain exposed to the blustery wind. Pick a nice and sunny spot with no breezes tilting at you.
If you can, bring a large piece of cardboard or scrap of carpet or rug with you. You can lay it on the ground and stand on that. It’ll keep you insulated one extra layer from the snowy ground.
Work small, says Emilie. When you are painting in the cold that is your best bet. Winter painting is all about reducing your exposure to the extreme elements and getting the most out of a paint out that will likely be just a few hours.
Emilie also recommends not putting down an underpainting because it will take too long to dry. Look immediately for big shapes, drop in your horizon line and consider breaking down your composition into parts. One each for a small painting study. That could mean doing a small painting of each element–a snow pillow on the limb of a pine tree for example.
Emilie covers up the white of the canvas as quickly as she can. The canvas can appear so bright that colors on the palette look totally different than what you put up. The faster you get value relationships established on the canvas, and cover that white expanse, the faster your painting will come together.
In true Bob Ross style, Emilie paints a snow-pillowed happy pine tree. For the tree trunk, which is in shadow, she identifies that its colors are on the blue spectrum though in the foreground it appears warmer. She mixes raw umber, a neutral warm brown, ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson. She makes the trunk lighter as it ascends.
Compress the values in the shadow areas of your painting. Emilie points out that you might see a lot of variety of values there, but for simplicity’s sake make them one.
That way you can explore a wider range of values in the highlighted areas. That will make the objects you are painting visually jump forward. The lightest lights you have can then be reserved for any swaths of pure snow that you happen to have in your composition.
Winter Painting Resources
If you are as excited for winter painting as we are, but aren’t quite ready to head out the door with Emilie, we have the perfect compromise: Peter Fiore’s Painting Winter Tangle Video Download. You will explore the gorgeous colors and compositions of the winter landscape from the convenience of your computer! Watch it all unfold with Peter Fiore!
Or, for a different take on painting in the snow, watch Painting en Plein Air: Spring Snow and Crabapple Blossoms with Stephen Quiller! See how Stephen uses watercolor and gouache to capture the delicate beauty of bright blossoms peeking out from early spring snow: