This project is really an exercise in how to paint white. It won't make any difference whether it is snow, a white cat, a table cloth, a wedding dress or any other thing that is basically white, everything we will be painting for the snow is applicable to any other white subject you might paint so even if you really aren't interested in snow – and with it being so cold lately I don't blame you – these demos and projects are designed to give you information and practice painting a variety of things so that when you go to paint your "masterpiece" you will have the knowledge and the skill to accomplish your goal.
A basic mistake that a lot of beginners make, is not understanding that white isn't necessarily white. A blank piece of watercolor paper could be titled "Polar Bear in a Snow Storm" because that is about as much success as you will have if you don't understand how to paint to suggest white. A key thing to remember in all your paintings is: You must have dark to show light. This is part of the value system and values are the lightness or the darkness of a color.
Some colors like yellow will never get very dark on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being the lightest; yellow might get to a 4 if the color is straight out of the tube. On-the-other-hand, blue can get all the way to a 10 depending how much water you have put into it and the hue or color of blue. I will show how to do a value scale next week so you can see what I'm talking about. Again, not the most exciting thing in the world but value is so important for you as beginners to understand and for any one who is trying to be a better artist. Value lets you create depth in your painting, it can also creates excitement in your so it shouldn't be overlooked.
The first thing I did was sketch on a simple tree trunk with some snow piled around it. In watercolor you need to have a good idea of where you are going with your painting so having a sketch at least is a good thing, the more detailed your painting is going to be the more detailed your sketch should be, this is different from other media because it can be difficult to change a color once you have it down in watercolor. I use at least a #2B pencil to do my sketching because it is soft enough that I can get a dark enough line to see on my paper without pressing too hard which could damage the paper plus it will erase without too much pressure for the same reason. I also decided where my sun was coming from, this is important so we know where our lightest colors will be and where our shadows will fall. I chose from the above right side.
The first painting I need to do is create a dark background. Remember, you need to have dark to show light. I used my ¾" angle brush and a mix of ultramarine blue, a touch of burnt sienna, and purple to create a blue/gray color and I painted on either side of the tree. If you are working on a flatter angle than I have to paint, you can wet the area with water first to help the paint move that is perfectly fine. There are times I don't wet an area first because I have gravity working against me in class and may forget to mention that you can/should wet the area. My bad.
While the paint was still wet, I showed how to lift out some distant trees using the edge of my brush. I rinsed it out and dried it then made tree shapes in the wet paint, cleaning and wiping my brush often. It you get mutant trees that look like they have exploded it is most likely that you had too much water in your brush that flowed out at an inopportune time creating a "bloom", make sure you squeeze the bristles near the metal ferrule where water likes to hide.
Next I painted the tree trunk. I switched to my ½" angled brush and starting on the sunlit side with orange and using the edge of my brush in a vertical position, I made short, choppy strokes to start my tree. When I got about a quarter of the way around I picked up some sienna on the brush (no need to rinse), same stroke to continue around to about the ¾ mark, then pick up some purple and sienna to finish the trunk. If you have white paper showing through, don't worry about it, it will look like show that is sticking to the trunk.
Next we need to start on the snow. For new students and a reminder for returning students, in watercolor we work from light to dark. That means we use the paper white and using a series of layers or washes, we create darker values. This is important so that you don't get too dark too fast. We make lighter colors by adding more water than paint, darker colors by using less water. This first wash will be blue with a little sienna in it to gray the color and LOTS of water. This should be less than a shade darker than the paper.
Because this is just a made up picture we don't have a reference photo to work from but it is good practice for you to be able to imagine how light travels because not all photos have a good light source, the ones we will be using for instance were taken on an overcast day so we are free to choose the direction of the light. I chose for this demo, to have the light come from the upper right which means that things on the right will be light and the shadows will be on the left of things. That said, the top of the pile of snow will be white so I started painting my first wash a bit down from the top and I tried to imaging what was going on under the snow such as tree roots and rocks. There will be depressions between the roots where it will be in shadow, the opposite side of the tree the snow will be in shadow, you can suggest rocks with a simple shadow, use your imagination to see these things and paint accordingly.
When you have put this color down, rinse your brush and slightly dry it then run the brush along the edges of the color you just put down to soften the edge. Snow will not have a hard edge and this will keep it soft.
This paint doesn't need to be totally dry to add the next wash, but if you fee more comfortable working wet on dry, that is okay, just remember to soften the edges. You can add a bit more of the same colors to what you were using to slightly intensify the color, this time when you add the wash, you will start inside the first wash and you won't go out to its edge either. You can add as many washes as you want but each time you leave a bit of the previous wash to give a gradual change to create a sense of roundness to the snow.
There are some cast shadows we need to deal with the first is the shadow that is cast on the tree from the snow itself. Anytime an object blocks the light source, it creates a cast shadow. Right behind the snow there will be a dark shadow, this is a mix of blue and purple with maybe a touch of sienna, it goes down the length of the trunk where the snow is touching it. After you have added this color, rinse your brush and on the edge of this color on the tree side, soften the edge.
You can use this same color for the cast shadow from the tree on the snow, the important thing to remember here is a shadow follows the terrain it is falling on. There is snow piled up around the bottom of the tree and this shadow will follow the lumps and dips in the snow.
This was something I had to do that you may have to do as well: If you didn't get your background dark enough you may need to add another wash or two to darken it enough so your snow will stand out. Use a similar color and just wash over the area again, you may need to redo the lifted trees, but it is good practice.
The other thing I would like you to practice is using your liner brush. This little brush makes really great trees and branches but it does take a bit of practice in getting it loaded with paint and getting the feel of it.
When you load the brush you will need to use enough water so that the paint is no thicker than ink, it needs to be able to flow off the brush. Roll it around in the paint to get it well loaded then as you lift it off your palette, twist it in your fingers to form a nice point. Hold the brush at the far end from the bristles and slightly down. To create a heavier line you press down on the brush, to create a thinner line you lift up and barely touch the surface. Don't worry if your hand shakes a bit for trees this is a good thing.
If you are trying to make grasses, load and hold your brush same as above but this time rotate your hand at the wrist in a circular motion then touch the paper on the up stroke. Big circles make tall grass, small circles make short grass. Like I said, this will take practice.
We will start on the project at our next class, please be sure to have a reference photo with you it can be the one I will be working form or it can be one of your own photos. It doesn't need to be snow if you don't want but please try to fins something white. Also, we will need masking fluid for this painting be sure to get the kind without color in it. See you soon.