Thursday, November 19, 2009

Snow painting, Vermont and brushwork

Here is a scene I shot twenty years ago up in Vermont. I am starting a blue night picture of the same location .

Below is a detail of a Hibbard that shows his snow painting technique.

This is just one method he used for painting snow, but I want to talk about this a little. The snow in this picture is divided into the two worlds, light and shadow. The light is pretty straightforward. It is warm and bright, and has a little cadmium yellow in it. All of the strokes that represent the light are angled the same way. toward the light source. Only the planes which face the raking light are illuminated.They are all in the same PLANE.

The shadow is more complex though. It is made of two different values. A deep value and a light one. The light value though occurs in both a warm and a cool version. The warm version seems to include alizirin and the cool version looks greener, perhaps it contains viridian. He uses those different temperatures the way you might expect separate values to be used. He portrays the different planes occurring in the snow with them. By portraying those plane changes through temperature changes, Hibbard is able to CONSERVE VALUES, that means a simplified way of representing the values by using less of them.

He is also making his color "vibrate". This is a form of broken or divisionist color. It is a kind of impressionist method. It is also very "Rockport". The painters from the Rockport school often used the square touch, broken color method of painting.The eye jumps back and forth between the warms and the cools and that gives a feeling of complexity that fools the eye into believing it is seeing nature.

Hibbard is also portraying the forms of the snow by characterizing where the edges of the forms and planes come together. He has accented these meeting places with either darker shadow lines or with a part in the snow revealing the ground between the masses. In the manner of a sculptor, Hibbard is thinking of the snow as a planar or faceted structure. Simplifying it into surface facets defines its place in space and what angle its surface faces in any particular area. Figure sculptors often do the same thing. An overly softened and rounded form is less descriptive of its surface volumes and forms.

The "square touch" for that is the name for this kind of handling, defines the form well. Also Hibbards marks march back into space as the snow recedes from us towards the top of the detail photo. If you squint at it you will see how the snow probably looked at a glance, the structure was explained by Hibbard as he painted the forms before him in the snow. This had to be installed as much as observed. It represents what was before him but is not pure visual draftsmanship. He is painting both what he sees there and he is explaining to us very deliberately the shapes and structure of the snow as it undulates over the ground beneath it.

This exuberantly painted little passage is a tour de force in snow painting. It is also not white!

I plan on doing another reader critique. If you want to be a part of that e-mail me a reasonably sized image of a painting at put the word critique in the subject line please. I will gather those for a week or so. I am going to limit submissions to landscapes as I feel most comfortable critiquing those online. Portraits, etc, it is best to critique with the model present. I remove signatures from the art I crit and I will not disclose whose art it is that I select.

Also I am going to write an "Ask Stape post for the Fine Arts Views site and I could use some questions. If you have art questions for me please e-mail those in and I will direct you to that post when it happens. Thanks.


billspaintingmn said...

Very helpful Stape!
Seeing it is one thing, having you explain it helps to understand it.
I'm looking forward to painting this winter, hope maybe to send you something to critique.

barbara b. land of boz said...

Awsome post tonight Stapleton!!! I learn so much from your blog. I can't say that I love to paint in the snow, because I've never have.
You do somehow make it sound like fun. Is it still plein air if I paint looking thru my windows?? burr.........The Hibbard is beautiful. When you showed this painting a few weeks back I was drawn to it. The "hum" is very much there. (is this where the little voices say I can do that)

Gregory Becker said...

Interesting post. Do you have any posts dedicated to how colors vibrate?

acapulco said...

Aggree with Gregory Becker, would be interested in this too.

I have an annotation here too. It is more of a general thing. I would love you to use a grey color for your blogposts. Like the one on the right where you describe who you are. It is much more readable.

I have a newer higher contrast monitor and I always have 'white stripes' in my seeing after having read your posts. Just my 2 cents.

Anyway, nice blog, frequenting it every day!

Robert J. Simone said...

This is not much different from how I have learned to paint the "white sand" beaches here on the Gulf Coast of West Central Florida. The temperatures are a different but the method the same. said...

I love snow paintings and I sort of colllect them, small ones when I can find and afford them. I have never painted a snow painting but it's on my list.

Stapleton;your snow/night/roof paintings are my absolute favorites. I can't wait to see another.I think of them as uniquely yours.

Much color vibration and modulation work was pioneered by Cezanne. Cezanne could not draw. There are many out there who wonder what all the fuss is about his paintings BUT if it weren't for him we might not be discussing color modulation and definition by warms and cools. Just take a look at his apples and lemons

Cezanne basically didn't rely on values (or drawing for that matter). He relied on color and warms and cools to define forms and to set up color vibrations. It's my opinion that it is something that happens by introducing opposites. For instance getting warms in areas that are generally cool (shadows). Getting complimentary colors next to each other in the light sides of a lit object, getting a pure hue into a neutral. Those are just some ways that you can get color to easily vibrate. Some artists, painters, find the book I am going to recommend on color to be too cerebral but it is a tour de force in color vibration: Itten's, The Elements of Color. It's something I read and ran with. Not everyone can get through this book and take away applicable practice so be warned.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thgank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I don't know if its plein air through a window, but if the picture looks good that's all that is important.Snow is my favorite subject

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think I havbe spoken about that, I will look in the archives. I have written so much I no longer remember it all.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I actually thought about that as I wrote the post. Surf painting uses some of the same ideas too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will talk to my wife, she is my webmaster and see what the deal would be to changing that. I do like the black background though. Art looks good on it and it is unique and distinctive.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I actually have that book. It never captivated me though. I have a book I like called Color in Sketching and rendering by Guptill. It is aimed at architectural draftsman mostly but I find it informative. It is unfortunately out of print.

willek said...

Just a terrific, nuts and bolts post, Stape. Thanks, I neglected to mention that your nightscape at the Boston International bowled me over. Just a great tour de force. Did you spend much time looking at Remington night scenes when starting out to do these night scenes? I always thought a lot of his night things and Maxfield Parish's too. A while back I read a couple of articles about guys doing nightime seascapes, plein air, with head/hat lamps and little lights on their canvases and pallettes. Ever do that?

Hmmmm...From the comments, it seems if I just learn snow, surf and sand will follow with no trouple. Sounds like a good selling point for your winter workshop.

julie susanne said...

Hey Stape,

Willek is right about the selling point for workshop. I recently, moved back to FL east coast, and the ocean, just after sunrise, reminds me of how you describe painting snow. However, I would be the most miserable person to have out in the cold, so I will spare you, for now... but I will hold onto my winter gear for when I finally come up and paint snow with you. Also, I suggest toe warmers, and possibly hand warmers. Purchased in quatity from Sierra Trading Post, they are about a buck a pair. A cheap fix for the FL whiner who arrives unprepared (not me or anyone I know, those other guys).

Thanks, julie