Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Each year when winter rolls around I find myself painting at least a couple of winter landscapes. Usually the paintings are in preparation for The Art of Winter Show at the Thousand Island Arts Center. This year is no exception; last week I delivered a watercolor and an acrylic painting to the Arts Center. The show opens on Friday, but there's always a chance that I will miss the reception due to weather conditions. Painting the winter and driving in it are two entirely different things!

The winter light as it sits low and pale in the sky always intrigues me. The early morning light and late afternoon illumination are the most interesting with orange, pink and golden hues bouncing off new fallen snow; trees casting long purple/blue shadows. I never have to go far for inspiration...especially this winter. The snow covers and hides a host of problems turning everything into a winter wonderland.

This year's entry in acrylic paint was started as a demo for my Painting class at the Y. I was scheduled to teach a class called "Painting the Winter Landscape", but due to a clerical error, my class was transformed into an Intro to Acrylics Class. But, I had planned on painting a winter landscape and I still needed something to enter in the Art of Winter show, so I stuck with the winter theme.

I was working from a photo and began by lightly sketching the major shapes: tree-line, a few drifts of snow and a stand of trees near the lower right corner, no details. I omitted distracting details like power lines and much of the partly covered fallen underbrush. I under-painted using complementary colors to add more vitality and depth to the "local colors".  In the original painting some of the orange underpainting in the sky and snow peaks through, but I am not sure that shows up in the photo below. Those little bits of warm color add a dynamic interplay with the cool tones of the winter sky and the shadows on the snow. The sky and snow were both painted by mixing colors directly on the canvas when wet so that the transition from color to color remained soft and diffused, lending a realistic quality to those areas. The tree-line running across the back was painted with a variety of dark hues including combinations of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Pthalo Green. I used a bit of light purple, (almost a lilac color) to lighten and subdue some of the dark tones.

When the painting was in progress the trees in the far background became a temporary focal point, due to the path of shadows leading the eye back to them. After I added definition to the trees in the right lower corner and added the arch of the branch across the path the other focal point emerged: the trees in the foreground, especially the arching branch. The trees in the far background were subdued with less intense colors and no details. I added some bits of stick-like branches poking through the snow to help lead our eyes through the picture. I painted in a few fallen trees partially covered with snow to help transition from the snowy path to the wooded area.

The show opens February 7 and runs through March 31. If you are in the Thousand Islands area stop by the Arts Center located at 314 John St. in Clayton. The Art of Winter will run concurrently with a selection of fiber pieces and weaving artifacts from the Arts Center's Handweaving Collection. The town of Clayton is quiet in the winter, but there are still a couple of nice restaurants open serving lunch. If you are lucky you will see a few hardy souls zipping across the frozen St. Lawrence River in air boats!


  1. Lovely Joan. I always admire all the colors you are able to use when painting "white" snow. Good luck in the show.

  2. Thanks Dawn. I'm hoping the roads are clear on the day the show opens. Last year we missed the reception because of extreme white-out conditions on 81 North, especially near Central Square.