I FINALLY picked up a paint brush again last weekend. Not sure why the holiday season seems to kick me into a painting drought each year.  I guess I get caught up in all the hustle and bustle and find myself mentally exhausted.  Felt good to be back at the easel!

I long to paint winter scenes (my favorite season!), and this only my second one, was from a photo I took early one morning after a beautiful snowfall.  It was crisp and chilly, but incredibly quiet and serene as I strolled along the San Miguel river (all but a stream this time of year) in search of reference material.  There really is something about fresh snow that makes my senses come alive and my heart swell...

Ok, back to the painting...  It is a 9"x12" acrylic on canvas.  I don't have a lot of experience painting water, reflections, or winter landscapes, and I am not sure how I feel about this outcome for a couple reasons:

1.) Start to finish, I think it this took me no more than 4 hours (lightening speed for me), and I'm not sure why.  It's left me wondering if I was too hasty or if I could make this stronger with a little more time and effort.  I do feel like I wasn't quite the "replicator of ref photos" that I often turn out to be, but I still don't feel like I achieved the looser style that I am striving for either. 

2.) It feels a bit ho hum to me.  I tried to push the color in the light in part by painting the rest of the scene semi monochromatic - I used a lot of Raw Umber and Ultramarine Blue for much of it.  I kind of like the resulting color/light on the water and the flash of sunlight on the bank coming in from the left in the mid-ground, but I feel like the light in the background in the trees is not as pronounced as I was going for.  I think this happened, because in my effort to create distance by pushing the atmospheric effect, I didn't leave myself enough room to get the contrast in value from the light to shadow back there.  Does that make sense? 

I realize this has turned into a bit of a self critique - whoops!  I really am hoping to get additional input and/or confirmation that I am on the right track with my own thoughts on this one as well as any improvement suggestions you all may have.  Thanks much - I learn so much by going through this process!

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Hi Corri! Glad to see you back on the site..

I think the way you paint snow on trees is pretty good. Your photo is excellent (and if you allow me I keep it for my own reference photos)

What I found strange is that you changed the focal point. I think one interesting point of your photo is the light on the distant trees. With my software I darkened some areas to get a more clear focal point (near the middle of the canvas). I also tried to "paint" some warm grass, but I'm not sure it's a good idea.

Philippe - Thank you for your kind response and input on my painting. You are more than welcome to use the photo for reference! As for the focal point, it is always a struggle for me to really choose one and subordinate the rest of the painting to it! In this case, there were two things I liked about this scene. One was, as you mentioned, the bright light on the more distant trees. The other was the light reflecting on the water. Subconsciously, I think I set out to emphasize both instead of choosing one (a mistake on my part), but as it turned out, I wound up accidentally making the water light the focus. This happened because I was trying to use atmospheric effect to create distant in the far trees, but wound up deempahsizing the light back there in the process. So, maybe I will try another interpretation and really work on changing the focus to the far trees and the play of light there. But, given that my water light is the focus in this version, I see how adding a little more color/warmth in that area might help emphasize it even more! Great suggestion and helpful pic to help me envision it! Thank you!!!

I really like this Corri! You are really good at these evergreen trees. The foreground tree really leads the eye into the piece and I love the sun light hitting the background trees. If you were concerned about creating atmospheric distance then notice the light bluish trees in the far distance of the photo. This will give you another layer of distance. A fun way I found to do water reflections is wet on wet. Lay in the base color then the reflection color...Pull this color straight down ( I use my finger) just smear it down! Fun huh? Then if you want you can use a pallet knife and zig zag down these colors. A super light horizontal strokes with a soft brush works too. With acrylics you have to do this quickly or add hyslow medium to give you more working time. Then put in the rocks and any little ripples.

Cooler colors (blues, purple, even pinks) in the foreground snow shadows will make the high lights pop more and add a little life.

I know painting evergreen trees isn't as easy as it looks, but you got it down girl!

Mark -

Thank you for your kind words and advice!  I will definitely try your trick for laying in the reflections.  I find the blending of the acrylics to get a nice fuzzy transition between the light and darks to be so difficult and I bet the wet on wet method you have suggested will do the trick!  I probably will use a little media to help the process when I try it!

I also really like your suggestion to bring a bit of cool color into the foreground shadows.  I really think it needs a little something to add a bit more interest there! 

Thank you again for your great feedback!

You are most welcome Corri, have some fun with it!

Hi Corri; What a beautiful job you have done with this so far!  I agree that your trees are lovely and I think you have done a great job with the snow so far, as well. I particularly like the way you have captured the distant, middle and foreground pine trees - excellent job!  I wouldn't worry about how fast you painted - it is great when you are in the zone like that!

I can really relate to what is happening when you paint this beautiful photo as I think the same thing happens to me.  I see a beautiful scene and can't quite capture it in the way I remember it.  I wonder if you are painting some of this from memory - as well as using the picture?  The day was bright and sunny and it is so hard to capture that!  

In your photo the foreground is much darker, which makes the distant trees and sky seem so bright. Your foreground is much lighter than that in the photograph and your sky is grayer, which makes for less of a contrast.  But sometimes paintings evolve a bit as we paint.  I wonder what you think the focal point of the painting should be now?  You mention that you like the light from the left and the reflection on the water.  If that area is now your focal point than I think you could work on that area to draw the eye there through more contrast, detail, convergence, etc. 

I think it would also help to pay attention to the movement of your water.  It is a stream and the water is moving over what lies beneath.  It has large and small ripples as it moves over the bottom, yet it is shallow so the ripples are a bit flat. Even when there is not much light, the movement of the water creates little light and dark ripples in places. Also, look at how the water looks when it comes up against the banks. I think water is hard to paint but it is endlessly fascinating.

Your trees in the right upper corner seem to have moved forward a bit.  If you make them light brown, lacier and add back in sky holes, they may look more distant.

Those are my thoughts.  Corri - I know that you work hard on your paintings and see them through - and they always look great at the end. This painting is off to a great start and I know that you will make this into a great painting by the time you finish.  I can't wait to see the finished painting!

Thank you so much for your thorough response Sarah! You really nailed some of the things that were bothering me and pointed out others I hadn't even thought of! I knew the upper right clump of trees was bugging me, but couldn't decide why! Sky holes are definitely needed! I also agree that the sky looks too gray for the light and I think I will rework that area. I also agree with your suggestion to strengthen the focal area and add some movement in the water. All great ideas - thank you!!!
Oh, and you are right that I used the photo to an extent and used my feelings and memory for much of it! I actually did that somewhat intentionally. I tried to use the photo as a guide for shape and form plus value to an extent, but I also tried to put it aside in an attempt not to "replicate" the photo as I have a tendency to do. Also, because of the bright sunlight in the distance, I feel like the camera displayed the foreground a lot darker than it was to my eye, but maybe I got lighter with it than I should have. I might work on that a little more too!

Hi Corri!

Sorry I didn't get back to you earlier, I wanted to take some time to manipulate the photos this week and I just had a hard time getting to my computer!

I love this scene and what you have done with it! I, too would like to try a version of it! Really lovely.

What you are doing with it is really great! Love your tree forms! The ones in the background are lovely and you have just enough detail in the foreground that it doesn't detract from the eye moving back into the painting.

I would just say one thing that might help is to really study the light and shadow. There is a rule of thumb to follow about that. You want to keep everything that is in shadow darker than everything that is in the light.

So, here are black and white versions of your painting and the reference:

Do you see how much darker the shadow area in the foreground is than you have made it? When you get that shadow value right, that is when you will be able to "see" the sunlight. It's all about the contrast.

Another thing to note is how dark you have your water. That high contrast there between the water and shore draws our eye there, instead of moving back into the painting.

Here is a quick Photoshop where I is basically like a blue/grey wash over the snow. Some a little purplish, some a little darker. And also put a blue green wash in a lighter tone over the water to bring the value of the water and shore a little closer together.

I've left some of the lighter snow to show a spotlight of sun to draw the eye back. And added some sunlit tips to the brushy bushes there as well.

Snow in shadow is a great place to add color, as opposed to neutral grays. The snow will reflect sky, water, trees, everything around it.

Anyway, hope that helps!

This helps tremendously Karen! I did come around to the notion that I needed to bring the foreground into darker shadow! Phillipe and Sarah offered some great tip there and I worked on that today! I had not thought to lighten the water a bit so as to play it down a touch - that makes a world of difference and I am going to do that now. I think I am getting much closer to what I was hoping for - thank you! The illustrations really help!

You are welcome to use the reference photo too!

good job so far! thanks for posting. the responses are great. i love to learn from everyone here. i think you do great paintings :)

Thank you kindly Wenda!  I agree that reading critiques, your own or others, is a fantastic way to learn!  I worked on it more today - maybe a little too much fiddling at this point, so I cut myself off and signed it.  Here's the end result.  I will post it here and then again on the photos page.  Fun project!


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