'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'.

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A Winter Morning, Robin Hood’s Bay, oil on board, (30x38cm)
 
A composition created by using the dark hedgerows converging on the sweep of the bay. Note the gap in the foreground hedge and just a suggestion of a path, which are used to break up that dark foreground line and to lead the eye into the picture.

Observation

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)
 
This was painted rapidly while sitting on the back of my car, using the shelter of the tailgate. An example of counter-change, the falling snow changing from white against the sky to blue against the snow. The white snow highlights are in fact reflecting the sunlight and are therefore not pure white. Whites will appear sharper and more vibrant against the shadows with just the tiniest hint of lemon yellow added to them.

Technique

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)
 
Having loosely suggested the middle distance trees, I applied the thick whites, taking care to follow the contours of the landscape with the brushmarks.
 
Once the board was completely covered I softened the darks as necessary, modifying and refining the shapes by adding more background colour around them.
 
Finally the figure was re-established.

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