Injecting a little sunshine into your landscapes will give them a strong appeal, and the best way of achieving this is to lay cast shadows across a light surface. Nothing will give a more striking or fresh approach than doing this across a pristine snow scene. With winter upon us you will hopefully have opportunities for practising this effect before long.
In this watercolour the sense of strong sunshine has been achieved by laying cast shadows across the foreground and over the left-hand part of the roof. For the shadows I used a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red, although very little of the latter was included as it is a powerful colour. This produces a lovely, fresh shadow and is not as dull or overpowering as say burnt umber mixed with the cobalt blue. French ultramarine is also a superb colour if you wish to substitute it for the cobalt blue.
Note also the warm colours employed on the house and trees – this takes away the utter coldness of a snowy landscape. Aim to have white highlights on the snow, but not an overall whiteness. On the left-hand trees I deliberately applied white gouache with a painting knife. I don’t normally do this, but I wanted to show a variety of techniques in my Winter Landscapes in Watercolour book, where this scene appears.
This painting is now on show with several others in the Ardent Gallery, in the High Street, Brecon tel. 01874 623333, and is also available as a Christmas Card, available here
Don’t forget to watch out for that snow – it rarely seems to stay long these days so make the most of it whilst it’s still around, and preferably before all those tobogganers have churned it all up!
The first snowfall of the winter arrived last Wednesday, and with glorious sunshine slanting across the landscape I abandoned all work and set off up into the hills. Familiar scenes lay transformed into jewels sparkling in the light. At one point I had a sudden urge to seek out a view at a point I had never stood before, a sort of premonition that I might find something exciting there. It was not far off the path, but about 200 yards across rough dead bracken covered in deep snow – ideal terrain to trip over and get a nice refreshing snow-bath.
When I reached the point there was no wonderful view, but as I turned back the scene before me really caught my imagination. It was a familiar abandoned house, but from a totally new angle, the whole image enhanced by the deep snow. It certainly brought it home to me that you can often find amazing new scenes simply by approaching the subject from a slightly different viewpoint.
One technique I sometimes use, mainly for foregrounds is that of covering an extremely wet wash with plastic food wrap, as I did here in the watercolour of highland deer that I came across in Glen Affric. In this instance I used Winsor blue, in places mixed with a touch of cadmium red, and varying the wash so that in places there was less strength in the colour, and even parts without any colour at all. You need to leave the food wrap in place until the wash dries completely. The method gives a spontaneous feel to the finished work. Experiment with various colours. It’s great fun to try this without any preliminary pencil work – you can do several examples at once – and when the work has dried you can see the optimum position to place your drawing before doing any further painting, and thus taking optimum opportunity of how the effect has developed.
This painting appears in my Winter Landscapes in Watercolour book and DVD, which you should find especially useful if you enjoy painting snow scenery. It is crammed with tips on how to bring sunshine into your paintings, creating misty effects wet in wet, transforming a scene by altering tonal effects, making the most of warm colours in winter, and much more. If you wrap up well, use a thin pair of gloves and carry one of those vacuum cups with warm coffee, you can make the most of a snow scene caught in the lovely low sunlight of a calm winter’s day. Leave the food wrap for the studio though!
Like boy scouts, we should always be well prepared as artists, for those moments when the weather and atmosphere create stunning effects that we simply cannot ignore. This means not just carrying sketchbook and camera around with us when we’re in the great outdoors, but being ready to venture out at short notice when a little seasonal magic appears. At this time of year I’m always aware that snow may well fall at any time on the hills and mountains, and if this coincides with those flaming autumn colours we have stunning possibilities for superb landscape paintings, so keep an eye on them there hills!
In this watercolour of the Applecross Mountains the contrast in colour temperature between the foreground and the background is striking. You can, of course beef up the warm colours well into winter if you don’t want your compositions to appear to cold overall. In this painting, which you will find on a larger scale in my book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour, the mountain details have been rendered in cool blues, apart from where the low sunlight is catching the higher parts. In the sunlit features I dropped in a touch of light red while the dark crags were still wet, and this also helps to place more emphasis on certain parts of the scene.
During the change of seasons be ready for this effect and look out for it in your local landscapes. Be prepared to move around to set those lively warm colours against the cool mountains and snow. It will really bring your work to life.
There are still places left on my seminar in Pontypool on Saturday 1st November, on painting winter landscapes in watercolour, and it includes a full demonstration and an illustrated talk on creating exciting winter scenes, with a great many examples of different types of landscape. It is aimed at preparing you for painting the winter landscape both indoors and outdoors, and making the most of this fascinating season. Check it out on my website. In the meantime, enjoy your painting!
We’ve just finished the studio filming with APV Films for my forthcoming DVD on painting Winter Landscapes, due out in September with my book of the same title. Most of the filming went smoothly, although the last part was heavily punctuated by wild gusts of wind and heavy rain lashing the studio, accompanied by a bombardment of artillery fire from the Sennybridge range. Thankfully they were not firing at us! It rather reminds me of the time I was sketching and camping on a Northumberland bombing range, having missed the signs somehow……….
At the moment I’m working on Wild Highlands, an exhibition in conjunction with the John Muir Trust, which will run from 16th April to 18th June in Pitlochry, Scotland. One of the aims of the exhibition is to highlight the ongoing devastation of the Scottish Highlands by industrialisation by massed wind turbines and their supporting power lines, which are now encroaching on some of the stunning mountain landscapes that epitomise the Highlands. Many of these will be on peat blankets and former forestry areas, which are the closest equivalent we have in the UK to rain-forests.
This painting of Beinn Eighe will be in the exhibition, and you can see that the mountain has several summits. Painting all these in good weather can invoke a feeling of having too many summits, so this is where it’s often a good idea to bring in some bad weather to hide one or two. It also adds a sense of mystery, which viewers love. I usually achieve this effect of mountains hidden in clouds by running the mountain washes up into a wet area in the sky – in this instance where you can see the pink effect. An alternative technique is to soften off the mountain peak with a wet sponge.
As you can see here, I’ve actually made my ‘bad weather’ rather more user-friendly by painting with alizarin crimson and French ultramarine mixed with cadmium red, so make sure you utilise the right brand of ‘bad weather!’
This seems like the wettest January I’ve ever experienced, but even so there have been 3 or 4 absolutely fabulous days of glorious sunshine, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, which shows that if we wait for them, and have all our art gear ready to go, we can take advantage of some beautiful spring-like days even in the wettest of Januarys. I’ve had some marvellous moments sketching in the hills lately, but all too brief.
Anyway, in anticipation of some snow (much to the neighbours’ concern we’ve been invoking the little-known snow-making ritual in the garden, but so far only attracted further deluge), I shall just cover a few basic points to help you with your snow scenes. This painting of a Herefordshire scene in late winter I did many years ago. I began by making the sky dark enough to highlight the snow-covered roofs, which were left as white paper. Even so, the cloudless sky suggests a fine day. To avoid the scene appearing too cold all over, I emphasised the red-brick walls of the buildings, and this also draws the eye to them as the centre of interest.
Clods of earth from the ploughed ruts peek up through the snow, and I have re-arranged them slightly to aim towards the buildings. The field under the strong sunshine reflected dazzling white all over, but I wanted to subdue some of this so that the emphasis would be thrown more towards the centre of the composition, so I washed clean water right across the field and then a wash of cobalt blue with a touch of cadmium red over the immediate foreground and to either side. This is a technique you can use quite easily to highlight any part of a painting you wish.
Enjoy the snow when it comes! I must get out into the garden again………….