Painting the Winter Landscape:
For any painter, whether they happen to live in the northern climes or not, painting the winter landscape is an exciting challenge. Especially in countries which have four distinct seasons, like Canada, the thrill of a vast winter landscape can be breath taking.
Winter Road - 24"x 36" acrylic on canvas
When the land is bare as in spring, summer, and autumn, all of Nature's wonders are visible.
Everything in Nature is constantly changing, and artists are aware of this, no matter how subtle they may be.
The greatest change of all comes when a thick, fluffy coating of snow covers all the familiar forms we have seen earlier in the year. All of a sudden, the landscape has become this vast “sculpture”. For me, this is a very appealing feature of painting the winter scene.
When I started painting watercolour many years ago, one of the most interesting challenges was painting a winter landscape. If you are to work in the traditional “transparent method” you don't add white to the paper to create light areas. You must plan ahead and reserve the white of the paper for your lightest values. This is only one reason why the watercolour medium is such a beautiful, but difficult one. You must introduce thin tints of colour to suggest shadow and colouration to the subject, especially if it is snow. You then add darker washes over top until the shadows are sufficiently dark. It is all very delicate.
Flying By - 15" x 22" watercolour on paper
As with clouds, snow is highly reflective, so in a wooded, winter landscape you must be looking for the colours reflected from trees, sky, the sun, and rocks, or just intuitively introduce them for effect. Nothing is more boring in a winter landscape for me than bland, white snow, with the occasional blue shadow.
If the artist is really looking and tuning in to what they see, then there is far more colour present than that.
When a strong, bright, sun hits snow, especially in the spring time, you can really sense a yellow, warm quality to the snow...or when the sun is setting or rising you will also see this.
Most paintings are a carefully thought out balance of warm and cool colours, including winter landscapes. Tree tops in the sunlight are a beautiful reddish brown, or warm grey tones. Frozen grasses are yellow, or a burnt sienna colour. Cedar trees are sometimes a warm olive green, while spruce and pine trees can appear almost as black sometimes...but they aren't.
Winter Stream - 22" x 30" acrylic on canvas
This then is the artist's responsibility to absorb the information in front of them, and present it in an interesting, satisfying way. The artist is the “filter or conduit” to getting Nature onto the canvas or paper, whatever the medium may be.
Winter at the Mill -22" x 30" watercolour on paper
Some of my personal favourite painters of winter landscapes are Lawren Harris, Suzor Cote, Maurice Cullen, and Walter J. Phillips. Take some time to look at their amazing work, you won't be disappointed!
The famous French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas said, “Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.”
A short cut to getting better painting results is to study with an experienced teacher, who can answer your questions and demonstrate first hand the techniques used. This is one reason why I truly enjoy teaching, and have many students returning to work with me.
My next “Painting the Winter Landscape Workshop” will be at The Mill of Kintail Gatehouse, Mississippi Mills, Ontario, Jan. 16th. from 9-5pm. Please, see the “Workshops” section of www.blairpaul.com for more information.
Blair T. Paul, all rights reserved
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Blair T. Paul
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