Painting winter scenes with watercolor can be an enjoyable experience once you know how. The light shining on pure snow and the shadows, both form and cast shadows, give the painting a sense of depth and clarity. There are several ways to achieve a beautiful, snowy landscape.
To begin, wet both sides of your watercolor paper. (If you do not wet the back, your paper will curl when you paint the front.) Some artists prefer to soak the paper then tape it to a board when dry. Consider your light source and be consistent with it through your painting. Lightly sketch your scene on your dry watercolor paper. I find 140 lb. cold-pressed paper works well. You will need to spritz the back of you paper every so often as you proceed.
Determine where your form shadows; those found on an object itself, and your cast shadows; those cast benefit your object, will be placed in your watercolor composition. Allow for both hard and soft edges for interest.
Preserve some pure white paper for your brightest snow. The eye goes to white first. Make a light wash of Aureolin Yellow and paint some of your sunlit areas in your foreground with this. Keep it very light. Next paint a sunny section towards the middle with a light wash of Rose Madder Genuine. Light washes of pure transparent color may be added after these have dried. Let your painting help you to decide what it needs.
Drop in some cooler colors such as Cobalt Blue into your shadow areas. Mix some Rose Madder Genuine and Cobalt Blue together for a soft violet color. Add this to your shadow. Allow it to run and blend into your blues.
Now consider some options for making your snow sparkle. These include techniques such as spattering masking fluid, dropping in salt, and using a light-grade sandpaper. You may want to select just one of these, to avoid “over doing it.” Although these techniques can enhance your watercolor, you will want your snow to appear natural. I will describe how to use each of these, and after practicing with them you decide which you prefer.
To mask out small specs of white in your snow, dip the ends of the bristles of an old toothbrush into masking fluid and flick with your thumb onto your paper. Practice this first on a piece of scrap paper to get a feel for it. Once your masking dots have washed they can be painted over. Once the paint has dried the masking fluid can be removed with an eraser or rubbing with your finger.
To give your snow sparkle with salt, experiment with the following. Paint an area of snow with a violet color and drop in some table salt while it is still wet. Allow this to dry then brush off the excess salt. See how you like the result of using this technique.
To use sandpaper as a tool, choose one area of your completed watercolor and firmly move the sandwich across this section with one motion. Do not go back and forth with the wallpaper, as this can ruin the effect.
Practice these techniques and decide which works best for you. I think you’ll enjoy painting snow!