The Colors of Snow - Perspectives from The Artist's Road

The Colors of Snow
Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Cedar Snow Shadows, 12 x 16". Watercolor, © John Hulsey
Cedar Snow Shadows           12 x 16"          Watercolor            © John Hulsey
   The large snow storms that have graced our area in past winters have given us opportunities to study the unique light, colors and shadows that only snow cover provides. Painting snow presents many challenges to the plein air painter—the least of which is the cold. The primary difficulty is the intense light reflected by the snow. This causes us to squint down, and in so doing we darken the entire scene before us somewhat. This is fine when painting the lights, but it gets very troublesome as we peer into the shadow areas. The iris opens up to take in more light, giving us false information about the value and temperature of the shadows. Switching back and forth between shadow and light can not only cause us to paint our values incorrectly, but also get the color temperature of those shadows wrong. Most importantly, it is important to protect our vision from the bright glare, but sunglasses can compound the difficulty in seeing color and temperature correctly.

  The brightness of sunlit snow can also throw off our reading of its color temperature. It can be easy to see the snow as pure white, but it generally is not. Snow can have anything from a cool, bluish cast to a warm, yellow-orange cast, depending on the time of day. The local color of objects nearby can also reflect onto and influence the color of snow. The best approach is to make careful observations and comparisons from the outset in order to get the color down correctly and to always reserve pure white for the little highlights here and there where the sun hits the snow head-on.
  To illustrate this, we set up a tripod on a spot facing south southeast to capture the changing snow and shadow colors under our large burning bushes. The camera was set to automatic settings. We took pictures at four different times during the day, making exposures two and a half hours apart. Here are our results (with no Photoshop corrections):
   9:30 am Snow Shadows   12:00 pm Snow Shadows                            9:30 am                                                       12:00 pm
   2:30 pm Snow Shadows   5:00 pm Snow Shadows                          2:30 pm                                                        5:00 pm

   The four color samples below were taken from the shadows cast by the farthest left burning bush in each photograph.
Shadow Colors
Shadow Samples                  9:30 am                12:00 pm            2:30 pm                5:00 pm
  Notice that the shadows display vivid blues at either end of the day, but tend to go grayer in the afternoon. The darkest shadows go hand-in-hand with the most intense sunlight. The color of the shadows is influenced by the color of the light, so as sunset approaches, the shadows take on more red and yellow.

   The four samples below were taken from the non-shadowed snow areas.

Snow Colors
 Snow Sample Colors
   9:30 am             12:00 pm              2:30 pm                5:00 pm 
   It is always fascinating to discover the variations in color warmth and coolness in the shadows throughout the day and the amount of color in the unshadowed areas of snow which the eye tends to perceive as white. Snow is a wonderful subject, a canvas reflecting the changing light and shadows of the day and night. It also provides us with one of the very few instances in which the ground plane can be lighter than the sky.

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.







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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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