Tips to Paint Snow in Watercolour

Snow often reflects the colours in the sky and the wonderful blues in the cast shadows deserve close inspection. Indeed, when I paint snow-covered landscapes I am always surprised at how little paper is left unpainted.

Art Materials

• French Ultramarine, Permanent Rose, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Sap Green, Winsor Blue Green Shade, Neutral Tint and Transparent Oxide Brown, all artists’ quality watercolours, various brands
• Permanent White Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache
• A pointed colour shaper or fine nylon brush
• Sable brushes, sizes 6, 10 and 12; rigger brush, size 2
• A sheet of Bockingford 300gsm NOT watercolour paper
• A 2B pencil
• Masking fluid
• Kitchen roll

Stretch a sheet of watercolour paper on a board. With a 2B pencil, draw up the key elements of the landscape. Reserve the lightest areas of the snow with masking fluid. Apply this with a fine nylon brush or a small pointed colour shaper. Remember that the marks left by the masking fluid on its removal are white marks that you will work with, so carefully consider its application and role within the design of the painting at this stage. Allow to dry completely.

Dampen the sky area with clean water. Hold the board at an angle of about 20 degrees and use a large brush (size 10 or 12) to drop in a mixture of French Ultramarine and Permanent Rose to the left, then move across the paper adding some Raw Sienna and finally Winsor Blue Green Shade, for the brightest part of the sky to the right. Let the colours mix to create soft edges. This will create a contrast to the sharper, found edges in much of the landscape. When the sky area is dry, begin to add some loose, distant landscape details with mixtures of the colours used in the sky with the addition of Sap Green and Neutral Tint for the furthest hills. Note how a dry brush stroke has been used to allow the white of the paper to show through indicating snow.

Hold the paper flat. With a mix of French Ultramarine, Permanent Rose and Winsor Blue, paint the shadow cast by the wall. Pay particular attention to the right-hand edge: the shadows must sit ‘flat’ upon the plane of the field, describing the angle at which the land lies. The chosen mix will granulate and add texture to the snow. Within the shadowed area add stronger mixes of blues and purples to add interest.

The dark granite wall provides essential contrast in the mostly-light painting. Paint it with variegated mixes of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna or French Ultramarine and Transparent Oxide Brown. Create texture by flicking darker mixes onto the stones as they dry, but avoid doing so where it recedes into the middle ground as this will distract attention.

With a well-pointed size 6 sable brush, begin to add structure and detail to the distant hills. Use mixtures of French Ultramarine with Transparent Oxide Brown, Raw Sienna with Burnt Sienna, and Sap Green with French Ultramarine to paint in the trees and bushes. Keep the brush quite dry and add some texture to the area above the main wall. Be careful not to make the tones of the distant features too strong. Pick out some of the nooks and crannies in the wall with French Ultramarine and Neutral Tint.

Remove the masking fluid. With the same mixture of French Ultramarine and Permanent Rose used for the wall shadow, paint in the snow on the wall tops, leaving a few unpainted patches for brightly lit areas. Pay close attention to the rounded, shadowy edges of the snow to indicate its depth. The posts are a mixture of French Ultramarine and Transparent Oxide Brown as are the twigs and grass stalks that push through the snow. With a damp brush soften some of the sharp-edged shadowed areas.