'Love it or hate it, snow has always been an inspiration for artists,' says Christine Pybus. 'Many of the world’s most iconic paintings are snow scenes, ranging from the winter scenes of Bruegel to Monet’s La Pie or Magpie on a Gate.
'How the impressionists embraced the subject, and in particular Monet and Pissarro, is testament to just how perfect oil paint is for capturing the light, contrast and the texture of snow.
'Texture is an added dimension afforded by the medium. A gorgeous thick brushful of white paint put down in one stroke creates its own shadows and has direction that helps to suggest the contours and perspective in what can initially seem a daunting and uniform landscape.
'If I hadn’t already given the game away, I do have to confess to being a lover of snow, so much so that whenever I open the curtains and find the sun rising on a crisp and even covering outside, I just have to be out there painting'.
A Winter Morning, Robin Hood’s Bay, oil on board, (30x38cm)
There are invariably long shadows in winter and these are essential to describing the contours of the landscape under snow. Just one shadow from a tree, a figure or a telegraph pole, even an imaginary one placed off the picture, can be used to describe the hollow of a country lane, a steep bankside or a pavement edge. Look for these shadows, move one from elsewhere or invent one.
On a white surface, such as snow, the shadows will be the complementary colour of the light source, which is the sun: yellow/orange depending upon the time of the day. Check on a colour wheel and you’ll find that these shadows, opposite on the wheel to the warm yellows, are a beautiful purple/blue.
Counter-change, another of those oft-used terms, is useful for painting snow. In reality it simply means that objects viewed against a dark background will appear light; the same object viewed against a light background will appear darker. In Winter at Aislaby, the snow is white against the blue sky, changing to blue against the white snow.
Winter at Aislaby, oil on board, (25x30cm)
The whites (with just a hint of lemon yellow) are put on last.
To achieve the light, opacity and texture needed, the whites need be put on thickly and with immediate brushstrokes and, believe me, that is such a joy to do! However, to try to put any meaningful darks back on top of those brushstrokes would simply result in a grey mud. Hence the dark areas must be established first and, once they are, carefully guarded. If lost, they can only be re-established a week or two later when the whites are completely dry, when they can then be painted back on top of the lighter areas. So establish the dark areas, which will also serve as a drawing, first.
Don’t be afraid to overdo them initially in both size and intensity; they will be modified as the thicker light areas are painted around them and once the lights are fully established the darks can then be softened as necessary.
A Winter Afternoon at Raw, oil on board, (20x27cm)
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