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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Painting the Light on Snow

'Winter Magic'        11x14      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $165

"Take that pure white pastel out of the box!" 
That was advice I got a few years ago. So I did and I rarely use white in my paintings. Oh,  I will use an occasional spot of pure white for a highlight but most of the time I can't even find my pure white in my box.

Instead I use very light values of many colors in my lightest or white objects.  I try to create the illusion of white with my light values and by surrounding them with darker colors.

To paint the white in snow it helps to remember that white snow is reflective. It reflects the color of the light so if the light is warm, the snow will have a warmth to the white such as a pale pink, peach or yellow.  If the light is cool the snow will reflect this coolness. Doug Dawson explains it so well in his book 'Capturing Light & Color in Pastel'.

  • At sunrise or sunset the light reflected by the snow is pink or orange.
  • Shortly after sunrise it turns yellow-orange.
  • Later in the morning is becomes yellow.
  • It starts to cool off around noon and becomes yellow-green.
  • From noon to sunset the process reverses itself.
It is important to remember that these colors also become cooler into the distance due to the effects of aerial or atmospheric perspective.  And sometimes it is hard to see these shifts but we do need to address them and often exaggerate them. This is what helps me:
  • The snow in light is brightest and warmest in the foreground.
  • As it recedes into the distance it becomes cooler and duller....yellow then orange then red is filtered out.
  • The snow in the distance tends to be duller often a dull greyed pink.
There are always exceptions to this idea but it is a good starting point. You need to pay attention to the light and the color of the light and snow.  I saw an excellent post on Facebook by Liz Haywood-Sullivan.  She suggested that artists observe the snow at different times of day and under different lighting conditions and keep a Snow Diary with color swatches and notes.  I think this is an excellent idea for those of you who live in areas that get snow!

1 comment:

robertsloan2art said...

This is a great idea. Near-whites are a lot more useful than white, even when used to lighten colors by layering. I can nuance the hue while layering or intensify it by using the same hue with near-whites.

The one time I still use bright white is the highlight in the shining eye of a main subject in a portrait, where the eyes are large enough the eye highlight crossing the pupil makes it an attractor with maximum contrast. That works well psychologically.

The only other time I thought white itself would work well is lights much stronger than the surroundings in a nocturne... except that riding in a car at night, I noticed some headlights had a golden hue, most of them leaned yellow cast - and occasionally one would show up with a very clear blue hue, blue-violet really. Well! That settled that, the near-whites are better even for the super high contrast of headlights at night when they're much brighter than tail lights!