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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Avoid Muddy Snow...A Quick Pastel Demo

'Winter Light' 6x6 pastel ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting with paypal $75

Painting snow with pastels can be a challenge. I am especially snow-challenged because I live in the south. I don't get much opportunity to see snow so I have to work from bad photos. I have had to figure out ways to help me interpret winter photos to make better paintings. I have learned to exaggerate and add colors to my snow and shadows as they often appear black, white and grey in my photos.
One of the other challenges we have with snow and pastels is avoiding muddy looking snow. This can happen easily since in winter scenes we are working with very light values (snow) next to dark values (trees,water, rocks) If we don't plan out our value masses and end up trying to put snow on top of darks we risk getting dull and muddy color. Yes you can brush out and redo....but it is better to get it right the first time.
For snow scenes it is important to do your value studies and I like to take it a step further and do a value underpainting. I use a dark blue or blue-purple Nupastel to block in my dark and middle values leaving the paper color for the lights. I try to use no more than 4 values. I like to wash this in with an alcohol wash to set it into the paper. Now I have a value road map so I will have a better chance of getting it right with my pastels.

Mini Pastel Demo
  1. Value study with 3 values. I like to use Tombow markers and a tiny sketchbook. Value study just indicates the big simple shapes...no details,no lines.
  2. I am using white Pastelmat paper size 6x6. I have taped off my reference photo to find my composition. Looking at my value sketch, I block in the big shapes with a blue-purple Nupastel. I wash this in with rubbing alcohol to set it into the paper. This is my value road map.
  3. A selection of pastels that I may use for my winter paintings. I pull these out of my big box and will use this palette for several winter scenes. It helps me keep my colors more harmonious if I pick them out before I start to paint.
  4. Close-up of finished alcohol wash.
  5. I start with soft pastels and reinforce the dark shapes with 2-3 layers of colors in the same value. I made sure to put some warm darks in the sunlit areas.
  6. Next I key in the lightest lights in the snow and blocked in the sky.
  7. I continue by blocking in the distant trees with a muted purple,the sunlit trees and the start of the shadows on the snow. All values are in place now it is a matter of refining the painting.
  8. Continue building layers. Add some greens and snow to the evergreen tree, putting down the snow in shadows and in sunlight...shadows getting lighter and cooler into the distance and snow getting duller.
  9. Adding the finishing touches by putting bright,warm snow on tree and sunlit trunks with a peach pastel.

I hope you enjoyed my mini demo! I plan to post a new demo each week so I hope you will sign up for updates so you don't miss a post. Sign up on the side bar for email updates, facebook and twitter too!


Christine Stinson said...

What a nice demonstration! Thank you, Karen. It's really interesting to see the process as well as the (lovely) final piece.

Karen said...

Thank you Christine! Thank you also for your etsy purchase. I will be shipping it in the morning! :)

Casey Klahn said...

Very well blogged! This is the go to post now for snow pastels, and I will recommend it.

Cindy Michaud said...

very nice,,,love the colors in snow, a great challenge for us southerners.

Karen said...

Thank you Casey. I appreciate your comments and of course the recommendation! I am a big fan of your work.

Karen said...

Thank you Cindy! Maybe we will get some nice (no ice) snow this year!

Beth said...

Karen - have you ever thought about taking all your blog posts and putting them in a book form? I find your blog incredibly helpful and I usually go to it for reference before I begin a new painting. I am starting some snow scenes and I have plenty to look at! Lots of snow in Colorado right now!
Happy New Year!