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Painting Snow

by | Feb 9, 2022 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

Painting Snow – Learning color tips from paintings by Lawren Harris

Painting snow starts with the recognition that white isn’t white. In last’s weeks blog (7 Color Tips: Shadows Aren’t Black) I covered how shadows aren’t black, and here for much of the same reasons, we will go over how snow isn’t white.

Once again, our ever-helpful brains will chime and tell us all the snow facts it knows in attempt to help. And, near the top of that list will be “snow is white.” But it isn’t. Snow is reflective. What is it reflecting? In our brains, the land of pure knowledge, we know that it reflects the white of light. However, in painting what it is really reflecting is whatever color we make the sky and sunlight out to be.

For early morning light, we may have creamy pinks, oranges, and yellows. And for every time we show a highlight -we need to have a lower value to accent it. (Otherwise, it isn’t a highlight, it just is.) So, what are those colors?

Usually, they are in the blues and purples. Softer for the softer light of the morning. Darker if the light is more dramatic.

Looking at art examples

One of my favorite artists of all time, Canadian Lawren Harris, has many winter landscape paintings. Here is “Winter Landscape with Pink House.” Notice how the light on the snow is very yellow and the snow in the shadow is blue. And what is the sky? It is a mixture of those two, and down a value step (darker) to help the colors of the snow feel bright.

Lawren Harris, Winter Landscape with Pink House, 1918, Oil on Canvas.

In Red Sleigh, House, Winter, look at the variety of the colors of the snow. What do you see?

Lawren Harris, Red Sleigh, House, Winter, 1919, Oil on Canvas

There is the purple trees in the background. The shady snow. The flat snow in the sun, the snow on the branches in the foreground. Notice how they are all different colors? Working their way from purple (far) to yellow (close).

Lawren Harris, Above Lake Superior, c. 1922, Oil on Canvas

A few years later his work has become more abstract. In the painting, “Above Lake Superior,” the snow highlights are almost pure white. But, look at the clouds. Compare their brightness to the snow. While they could seem as white as the snow, they are darkened to not be as bright. The snow has the most contrast and therefore becomes the star of the picture.

Trying things out in your painting:

Pick a snowy scene to paint.

  • What warm color will be your highlights?
  • And the opposite; what cool color will be your shadows?
  • Which area has the most contrast?
  • Do you need to darken the sky to create a difference of values between the snow and the sky? Is there something else that will do that (trees, a mountain, etc.)?