Painting Snow-covered Mountains

One of the really good aspects of working at the Hay Literary Festival is that we’ve had a lot of youngsters taking part in our short workshops, and several of them have produced excellent work. The language is also quite different, and to every technique I demonstrate the illuminating reply always comes back the same: “Cool!”

I love opening the fantastic world of art and nature to students, and it’s sad we’re unlikely to see these youngsters again, for it would be lovely to see the enthusiastic ones progress their painting further. I don’t do workshops for many reasons, preferring to run occasional courses where I can take folk out into the countryside and show them how exciting it can be working directly from nature.

Today’s tip takes us back into the mountains. So many times I have hiked across mountains through deep snow, up crags and gullies, and taken tremendous efforts to reach a scene to paint. This one, however, is in Snowdonia in North Wales where I simply got out of the car and sketched this view. In places like Snowdonia you don’t always need to trek across mountain ranges to get that stunning subject!

In the watercolour you will see how I’ve created the shadows with fairly strong ultramarine, while leaving the white of the paper to depict the snow highlights. A snow scene can look extremely cold and forbidding, though, unless you introduce some warmer colours. One of the obvious places to do this is in the sky, where I’ve laid Naples yellow and some alizarin crimson to warm it up. Had I pushed this further across to the right I could have also included some of these colours as reflections in the stream, but I was happy with the way things were. Beside the stream I’ve added bunches and strings of reeds with the warm yellow ochre, a useful colour to drop into the foreground of a snow scene to relieve the overwhelming cool – there’s that word again. I’d better shut up!

The painting features in my DVD on Painting Mountains & Moorlands, which is a series of slides covering a whole variety of scenery from valleys to the high peaks and glaciers, and available from

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