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Fresh Off The Easel: Tracks in the Snow

Winter scenes have arrived! I visited Marsh View Meadow Park in Pittsfield Township on a sunny, late afternoon. The sky was clear and the shadows at 4 PM were awesome.

This article will walk you through the steps to complete this painting. A live presentation of the steps taken to create "Tracks in the Snow" can be found on my YouTube channel.

Here is the reference photo I decided to use as the subject of a pastel painting. As photos go, this picture is rather bland. Somewhat boring. But I was intrigued by the lines in this landscape and, hence, arrived at a composition that I felt would work.

This scene offered several converging lines to capture the composition. The tree line in the background with its line at the base, moving up from the right to the left, and the tops of the trees moving up from left to right. The line of the gully along the base of the hill on the left, and the line of the hill as it heads up the painting toward the tree line. Then we have the snow shadows, as well as the footsteps.

During my first session in developing this pastel, I worked up a simple sketch of the lines as the basis for the composition. I also do a quick value study and a notan:

The line study helped me to focus on the key compositional elements of the landscape. My task was to distill the variety of the elements in this scene and simplify them. I believe that I accomplished that with this simple sketch.

My next step was to do a simple value study, blocking out the darkest areas and the mid-value shadowy parts, leaving the rest of the sketch blank to represent the bright snow. The notan is a two-value sketch (black and white) to convey the extreme values in a very high -level form.

I took a blue pastel to work up the values, applying the pastel to the mounted Uart pastel paper. I chose blue because so much of the snow and its deep shadows are blue. The fun part will be to apply purples, pinks, orange and yellow in the sun and shade of the snow. There is so much color in snow; leave the white behind for now!

My next step was to block in the tree line and the gully that creeps up the hill, as both represented the darkest values in the landscape, and also reinforced the key elements of the composition.

Second Session:

I will typically paint in the early morning, starting around 5:00. Sometimes I work a bit in the evening also. I left the painting on the easel for the next day. In Session 2, the fun begins. I pre-selected my palette with warm and cool versions of brown, ochre, blue and orange, as well as high value versions of yellow and pink. No white. This painting session involved blocking and tackling the entire canvas, basically creating a "rough draft."

Third Session:

At this stage, I am reviewing the values and the level of detail of the painting to determine what needs refining.

It is important to get the value relationships (the lights and darks) of the painting correct. At this stage, I check the values of the piece and compare them to the values in the reference photo. To do this, I convert the reference photo to grayscale and compare it to a grayscale version of the painting.

Below is the grayscale of the reference photo, followed by a grayscale of the painting. As the reference photo is darker overall, I wanted to capture the relative value relationships. For example, the lightest portion of the photo should correspond to the lightest portion of the paintings. The values don't need to match perfectly, just conceptually, since my plan is to highlight some areas more than others (i.e. a brighter hill on the left) as well as shift the composition a bit, which will shake up where different values are placed. I highly recommend completing this task while working on a painting:

I found a few modifications to make. I added more highlight rims around the deep indentations in the snow, varied the bumps in the snow which added more shaded areas of blue, softened the tree line, and threw in more grasses along the gully area. The grasses and the spots of dark earth introduced pleasant. sharp marks to contrast with the softness of the surrounding landscape. Often at this stage I will harmonize colors by repeating them in various locations in the canvas.

Here is the final version of "Tracks in the Snow:"

At some point, the artist needs to stop on a given painting, deciding that any further changes might not be necessary from a technical perspective, and might just reflect personal preferences. Considering that I complete one painting per week during my limited painting hours each day, it was time to call this one finished and move onto the next piece!

Please visit and subscribe to my YouTube Channel and enjoy short pastel painting lessons while I create my weekly piece of art! You can find my channel here.

Tracks in the Snow is available for purchase on my online shop.

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