When I decided to make my own Christmas cards I thought I would keep it simple. I chose a snow scene with which I am familiar, having painted it as a large oil (see below), but thought I would execute it as a small watercolour.
Snow off Hanging Houghton, oil, (35x25cm)
Whilst you may not be able to paint hundreds of original cards for Christmas, you could photograph your painting, print it out and stick it on. Or just paint a few for your special friends or family. The painting here took just 45 minutes and I have painted it a number of times, each time being more practised than the last.
On this scale you can really have some fun and feel a sense of freedom, yet I think the final painting is really effective.
Make a few pencil lines to establish the composition, keeping the work light because you do not want the lines to show in the final work. This scene is a very simple hedgerow and field running down to some distant landscape on the right. This composition has a distant horizon and some central trees. The foreground has footprints and track marks in the snow, but there’s no need to draw anything here at first
Drop in the sky very quickly using cobalt blue then, using a No.1 round sable brush on the side, drag the blue with water sharply across the sky area – the paper will curl a bit but can be flattened out later. You really can’t go wrong if you keep it simple. When the paint is dry you can think about the hedgerows
Start the hedgerows; the trick here is to use dry brush with dry burnt sienna and Vandyke brown. Dry brushwork needs some practice; it will be useful not only on the top of the nearest hedge, but also in the distant woods. I also have neutral tint in my palette, which is good for darkening the browns, even though Vandyke brown is pretty dark itself. With a landscape you always paint the sky first, then move to the middle distance and finally the foreground.
Mix a distant mauve/purple using some Winsor violet, a little blue and neutral tint; using the same No. 1 brush, only now with the tip, draw in the horizon line and some distant trees. Come gradually closer with the far distant wood on the right, with slightly stronger colour
Being more bold and with stronger dark brown, work into the main hedgerow, coming closer, being careful to use the dry brush technique to establish the top of the hedgerow. The burnt sienna is the lighter tone in the hedge; be careful to think about how the snow flurries up to the edge at the bottom. Establish some good dark tones and begin to bring up the trunks of the two main trees
Drop a light wash of blue on the middle-distance left-hand field, the fields to the right and the central road area. Using the same pale wash of cobalt, put in the shadows on the foreground field from the hedgerow; begin to dab in the foreground track marks, remembering the light is from the left so shadows are to the right. For the bright white snow to be effective it’s important to see the slight texture and tone even in the light areas of snow. Be careful to keep some detailed shape to these ruts of trodden show. Work carefully as you are being specific. It is important that you use a good-quality brush. I recommend the Winsor & Newton watercolour sable No.1 round as it goes to a point beautifully. With the finest tip you can draw fine lines, which will be important with the trees later. When you put in texture and trodden snow, use the side of the brush
The footprint in the snow can be likened to a crater, which I will call the crater effect. Begin to work up the main tree trunks. These oaks have mistletoe growing up them, there is a certain edge to the trunks that is important to describe. The use of the No.1 brush is important now as you are going to draw fine lines
Using the very tip of the brush and resting your finger on the paper, it is possible to achieve the very fine lines of the top of the branches. Working now from the top down it is possible to join up to the main branches, remembering that a branch never gets fatter or thicker as it grows. It diminishes proportionally. I work from left to right and another tree in the next field on the far left appears to create depth and space and is really a much smaller version of the main central tree. Part of another one is put in the central area in the middle where there is glimpse of a road.
Using dry brush again distant branches can be described. The work becomes exciting at this point as you begin to see the painting coming together. As there is light from the left, some of the branches on the right-hand tree can be depicted with burnt sienna
Snow off Hanging Houghton, watercolour, (14x10cm)
Working on is a matter of continuing with more of the same. The final stages and finishing touches are to include the branches that come across from the left. This creates more depth as some of the foreground shadows come from a tree or trees off the picture, as do these branches.
Using white acrylic mix a little orange into the white and paint a few light grasses across the hedgerow, plus a few darker lines touched in against the white snow for one or more of the short grasses in the snow. With lemon yellow acrylic add some dots of yellow to the left of the two main trees – this creates just a touch of light to the mistletoe – and the picture is done
This Christmas painting demonstration is taken from the December 2012 issue of The Artist