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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Painting The Shadows on Snow in a Winter Landscape

'Winter Shadows'           10x10         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155

 I love painting winter landscapes but I am snow challenged here in the south. We haven't had a good snow in Marietta in a long time.   So I have to rely on photos for my winter scenes. Working from photos always presents challenges but especially with snow photos.

Our ordinary point and shoot photos of snow just don't do a good job of capturing the colors we see with our eyes.  The light snow often looks pure white and the shadows look black.


When we paint what we see in the photos we end up with boring and flat looking snow.  We have to introduce and exaggerate the colors to make our winter/snow paintings more authentic and interesting.

So how do we know what colors to put in our snow and shadows?  Living in the south I can't even observe snow so I have to rely on other artists and instructors.  One of my favorite resources for information on painting snow is Doug Dawson's excellent book 'Capturing Light & Color with Pastel'.  Doug has a chapter on painting snow and I'd like to share a few of my favorite bits of advice from his book.


Let's begin with Shadows on snow. (since I usually paint the shadows first) Both the light areas of the snow and the shadows have color. Snow reflects the color of the light in the 'white' areas and the color of the sky in the shadows

  • Shadows in snow reflect the color of the sky. They are usually cool ...blue-green, blue-violet or blue.
  • The color in the shadows get cooler as they go into the distance. (They follow the principles of aerial perspective) 
  • Shadow colors shift from blue-green to blue-violet to blue as space recedes. This is because yellow is first filtered out of the light, then oranges and then reds.  See the photo above for some of the pastel colors I use for snow shadows starting with blue-greens on the right to blue-violets to blues.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:  Snow is not white and shadows are not black. Snow is the color of the light and shadows are the color of the sky. Shadows are cool colors and shift and get even cooler as they recede.

1 comment:

robertsloan2art said...

This is entirely true, and I've lived in many snowy places. The other thing I noticed is that the color of the sky relates to season and latitude. Skies got pale and tinted a little violet in Minnesota. The sky in New Orleans was incredible, deep and dark and rich like a tropical sea, I thought I was on another planet when I first went there. Moving down from Kansas to Arkansas felt like driving through the seasons, it was warm and beautiful when we got here.

Snow scenes are beautiful. If you've got enough heat and it's not too bad out, not one of the bitter cold days and not in poverty, it can be wonderful. It's those gray dull days that look more like the photo that get me down, where the overcast sky looks like a dirty blank page, unfinished, and diffuse shadows do get grayed out that get me down. Though blizzards can be beautiful in their own way, when I lived in Chicago a blizzard huge enough to choke transportation and get me off having to go to work was gorgeous. I had good heat in that apartment for appreciating it though.