When Oil Painting, Should Your Snow Be White?

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May be about 3000 years ago someone was inspired to describe something as being "as white as snow" or "snow white" or "as pure as snow". At the time it was a very original and effective simile or metaphor and a powerful phrase. Newcomers to writing whose own imaginations are more limited still use such phrases, but they have now gone even further beyond being even a cliché. Something of the same can be said for some pictures of snow scenes where the snow is painted as universally pure white.

Seeing Is Believing
But as effective as the metaphor or simile originally was, it was based on something of a falsehood. Snow is often white, but this tends to be where there is an absence of sun and the sky is not a brilliant blue. In other instances it is hardly, if ever, white. Even where it is, there are often significant departures from white within a given area. Many people, especially non-painters, never noticed the colour of snow, but for anyone seeking to develop as an artist, observation is a critical concomitant and one needs to see what most other people do not see. Where colour is concerned, snow can be a little like those mimics we see on TV who can imitate other people very convincingly.

This is a case in which "seeing is believing". The next time there is snow around in your environment, just take time to notice what colour it actually is and how it varies from place to place, such as in the roadway or by a hedge. In this respect, what it is, is often not what it appears to be. It is very rarely that snow appears to be completely white although, of course, there are times and places when it does. But snow is a very reflective substance, so when there is a clear blue sky, it tends to take on such shades. See, for example, the oil painting of Snowdon From Llyn Llydaw
where the snow has a definite blue tinge. This is also true of the water, for that has a reflective nature even more powerful than that of snow and, even if it seems not to copy an image precisely, it will be affected by the colour around it. Hence some of the comments here regarding snow can be kept in mind when painting water scenes.

Colour Variations In Snow
Snow is like a chameleon and its colour adapts to whatever is around it. But it is not always determined by a colour as such. Often it is a mix of colours and, importantly, shadows.

Shadows, of course, vary in depth. Sometimes they are quite light and may need to be created in a painting using a gentle gray treatment. But at other times and in other places, the shadow can be really quite dark or, even within that limited part of the picture, the shades can vary and including those variations can make a big difference to the impact of a painting. Look at a hillside, for example, after a snow fall. In many cases you will notice a (sometimes quite subtle) variation of shading due either to the direction and strength of the sun, or even to underlying undulations of ground.

Then again, snow will alter its colour where it has been disturbed by traffic of some kind. This is most noticeable on the road when cars, lorries or buses have sloshed over it. Ant tendency to turn to slush introduces an element, sometimes an extensive one, of brown. Where the snow has been sprayed by passing traffic, the “virgin” stuff around can be speckled with the brown variety. Likewise, where people have walked in the snow, gray or brown tinges will be introduced. In the countryside the same will apply when animals have been present. Of course, when the snow begins to melt, different shades and hues tend to occur and, whereas many painting go for the “mint” kind of image, a picture showing something of end of a snow period can be an effective variation.

Painting a snow scene needs to take all such factors into account. Not only will that make the painting more realistic and convincing to the viewer, but it will also tend to make it a more interesting and attractive image. In addition, it will make painting more interesting and enjoyable, for such benefits depend largely on one’s investigation into deeper levels of a subject and trying to bring out and improve on their characteristics.

Sometimes snow shadows are fairly straightforward and relatively uncomplicated being, perhaps, in varying shades of gray. At other times and in other places, the shades, colours and tones can be quite subtle and include blue and purple. So you, as the artist, need to be aware of these variations, even if other people are not conscious of them until they see them in your oil painting.

AUTHOR: A K Whitehead
This article is copyright but may be reproduced providing that all this information is included.
This will take you to paintingsinoil.co.uk main page of original images painted by A K Whitehead.
All the paintings in oil here are by A K Whitehead and are original oils and not copies. The approach is traditional, making use of various techniques, including impasto and glazing. This link will take you to the main categories of landscapes, seascapes, snowscapes, waterscapes and still life and all are provided with free frames and fastenings. Free delivery is also included within the UK.

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