….depicting snowy pines

October 22, 2015

Snow-laden firs and pines aren’t the easiest of subjects for depicting in watercolour–(at least not for this painter).  The challenge comes in first understanding the effect snow has on branches, for, obviously, there is snow and then there is snow–each snowfall having its own unique effect.  That crystalline, hardened seizing of tender branches by icy snow pulls them heavily towards the ground, while sub-zero powdered flurries creates a mere dusting of needles–each presenting technical challenges.

Of course, the problem is one of always having to paint around the white of the paper allowing it to ‘be’ the snow in watercolour.  Given that opaque white can’t be used, a light dusting on pine needles becomes really quite a bit more difficult than painting the after-effects of a full-blown blizzard.  Leaving minute dots of paper surrounding green needles is a recipe for madness in my book.  Give me a snow-stormed pine any day of the week in its place.

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Figuring out just where branches are on a given variety of pine, fir, balsam, cedar or spruce is key to understanding where snow will sit when on them.  So it seems crucial that any study be limited to particular species, (in the above case, cedar) — otherwise, a painter of representational art will be in danger of ending up with a kind of ‘marshmellowed’, generic evergreen most often seen on Hallmark Christmas cards.

Truly, each variety of coniferous tree accepts snow in its own unique way.  A blue spruce, for example, with its stiff, jutting branches, is much more able to bear the weight of snow than the red cedar in the above study, whose branches are prone to drooping and bending.

This study was done on leftover piece of plain white matt board, using a chopped-up small fan brush to go after the greens, then a more pointed, conventional brush to soften the hard edges and provide shadowed depth to the snow.  The branches aren’t quite correct.  Once snow is included, it changes perception to such a degree, I have trouble understanding where it goes and branches fall.

The beauty of our being blessed with so many evergreens to choose from comes in knowing that each one offers the student of watercolour great and intriguing challenges, especially when brimming with that wonderful adornment–snow.

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15 Responses to “….depicting snowy pines”

  1. Thank you very much Elena–your work is amazing.

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  2. Robin King said

    Wooohoooo! Wonderful post! I love how you think about the snow and the branches and the weight, etc. It’s like you’re sculpting the image in your mind before you begin to apply paint. Wow. Thank you for sharing this!! 🙂

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  3. You certainly make me feel special with a comment like that. Thank you, Lance. It is great to see you back. 🙂

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  4. Awww… thanks Lance! What a wonderful thing to say! 😊

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  5. ….you are so special Melonie

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  6. ….Barry, my Rip Van Winkle rescuer! I love the look of your new site–thank you for your boost today.

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  7. ….I’d far rather tackle a snowy cedar than a sonnet! (smile) How true that for the enthusiast, the more ‘strictures’, the more challenge. It all hinges on just what one is enthusiastic about! My partner Raul is currently obsessed with photography, which I consider way too technical and mathematical–all those settings and apertures–while he can’t stand more than a few minutes in my studio without getting fidgety. So we meet in the middle, with me supplying paintings based on the results of his hill-and-dale wanderings. ‘Jack Spratt’ my mother always said in automatic response to such things. Well, as a reader, I am very glad your obsession is with words, Cynthia!

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  8. ….Charlie, your triumphs with architectural subjects will situate you well when tackling snowy themes, I am sure of it. Thank you for always being such a cheerleader for fellow painters.

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  9. Stunning work and missed

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  10. I so admire your purist stance, Lance. (that rhymes!) It reminds me of the challenge and thrill of working with a poetic form–say, a sonnet—and seeing how the meaning can remain “organic” and real, while obeying the strictures. I’ve always enjoyed the thought that there are hundreds of eskimo words for snow, and as a New Englander, I am aware of the wonderful variety of evergreens. So your challenge is an exciting one, for sure…..much like seeing so-called negative space. The example above is quite beautiful in its almost ethereal yet still earthly delicacy.

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  11. This is wonderful Lance! I’ve never painted snow in my life… yet… but look forward to trying it in the coming months. This is really informative and helpful. And your outcome is gorgeous! The pains of being a purist… hehe… but you completed the challenge. I think I wouldn’t have been able to resist grabbing for my white gouache. 😉

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  12. …thank you very much Sharon for taking the time and offering your perennial encouragements!

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  13. Thank you Lance for the in depth study of trees. I’ve just studied your painting and I can see all the challenges you discussed, and less is more, masterfully done!

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