Winter landscapes, if you’re not careful, can take on a boring monotone. So, for me, a lot of the color comes from the sky, whether it’s a break in the clouds creating dramatic warm tones or layers of subtle color in an overcast cloudbank.
Winter light just feels different than summer light. With the sun in the southern sky shadows rake the landscape all day and the sky gets colors that are unique to the season. Capturing those subtleties is the challenge and the beauty that makes winter paintings so unique. There are subtle greens in the late afternoon that reflect of snow and water that I only see in wintertime. Years ago, I did multiple color studies of the sky at different times of day. That really help me see the winter color palette better and that palette really takes some expertise to use well I think.
I love painting outdoors and have learned that watercolors just don’t work well when the water freezes. I will make pencil sketches, catching the value shapes and then add watercolor once in the warm car. This forces me to keep it simple, almost abstract. I love developing a composition from one of these quick rough sketches and building the image around the core abstraction of the sketch.
We live at 7,600 feet on the west side of the La Plata Mountains near Mancos, Colorado. As I type this it is snowing and the sky is a pale warm grey. The snow is lighter than the sky by it is what skiers refer to as “flat light.” I just took out a piece of “Bright White” printer paper outside and laid it on the snow away from the house so as not to get reflected color. This is a good way to determine actual color and value. I prefer to do an easel painting from a combination of photos to capture movement and a plein air study to capture accurate color.
Temperature and weather conditions are limiting, but I have good warm “mushing clothes” and can position myself out of the wind under the hatchback of my Highlander. I also paint from the front seat, and we have great views out of every window in the house and my studio. There have been many bathrobe studies to get the earliest light effects.