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10 Tips on Painting Realistic Snow

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Stop shovelling it and go paint it!

Looking out my window at the giant pile of snow on my driveway I thought to myself - snow is a wonderful thing to paint - and instead of shovelling I wrote down 10 things I know about painting snow.

  1. Wear long underwear.

  2. White warms as it recedes. Just have a look at a far eastern sky with the big plumage of clouds over the prairie. The top of the clouds are very white but as you move down you will see that they begin to warm into a yellow phase, then to a pink phase and at the horizon to an orange phase.

  3. White that is near you tends to take in a blueish hue and in the middle ground it has a touch of purple.

  4. Look for reflections. Snow reflects what is around it, be it the sky, the wall of a barn, or other patches of snow in sunlight. Larger masses of snow will most likely reflect the sky so if the sky is grey, your snow will be grey.

  5. Keep it clean! White is a tough colour to keep clean, so remember to keep it from getting contaminated by the other colours in your painting.

  6. Be aware of the planes. Look for what catches the light directly, what’s in shadow, and what reflects the light. You will see a variety of values and colours in snow, but you will almost never see pure white. The refractive index from snow makes it whiter than white. To achieve this illusion add a dot (and when I say a dot I mean a tiny bit) of Cadmium Orange. You're not trying to make the snow orange but trying to borrow a bit of the Cad Orange’s chroma to brighten up the white.

  7. Shadows in the snow are full of light, probably due to the snow’s reflective quality. Look for reflective light and variety in your shadows.

  8. Dropping the value of your sky a step will make your snow look brighter. No one knew this better than Carl Rungius

  9. White greys colour. It will not brighten colour. To make white whiter see #6

  10. Don’t be afraid to use some paint. Not sure why but thick light colours tend to come forward and not recede like most darker colours.

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