Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Colours of Winter

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 19 x 27 inches

I've painted this tree in various guises before and especially in the snow, often looking straight into the sun, but here I'm looking up river, with strong winter sunshine from stage left. 

I know some folks find it interesting to see how a painting is built up, so I took a few photos of the stages:
The composition is sketched out in charcoal and the first dark strokes of the main tree are placed in.
More dark tones and a few broad suggestions of the backdrop of trees are suggested.
The sky is next to be placed, without which it is very difficult to see whether the tree tones and colours are anything like correct. The blue tones of the far
distant trees are adjusted accordingly.
More work is done on the bank of middle distance trees, together with the sunlit and shaded snow colours - no pure white is yet used. Some of the main tree branches are also drawn in, scrubbing out the underpigment where needed with an old oil painting hog brush. The river is also suggested with a few purple/grey/brown downward strokes.
More work is done on the shaded far riverbank, river and near bank, and much more branch-work.
With the 'easy' bit out the way, now I could concentrate on the foreground, which, as I suspected, proved to be the most challenging, with all the lumpy snow and strong cast shadows. I blocked in the rough tones with broad slabs of Pastel to delineate where the shadows stripes were.
I've deliberately repeated the photo of the finished painting above so that you can see the final stage without scrolling to the top again.

I have literally dozens of pinks, blues, greys and mauves in my tray of Pastels laid out all around my easel, but do you think there are any that are the right tone or colour? You're right, there aren't, so I had to layer and rub just about every one of those pinks, blues, greys and mauves over each other to get what I wanted, and when I had finished, my camera failed to pick up the subtleties, so, as ever, the painting looks far better than the photo. 

I worked all over the painting, refining here and there, with a special emphasis on the tree branches growing towards us, appearing light against the dark trunk. To complete the painting, I srubbed out pigment all around the tree and squashed in some lovely warm russet tones of the Oak leaves, still hanging on from autumn, which provided a nice foil to the inevitably cool overall feel to the piece. Orange and blue are complementary colours, so they always sing well together in a painting.



  1. Peter, you continue to amaze. Having seen your oils posted for a long while, I had no idea you had such a mastery of pastels, as well. This step-by-step post is very useful, and though it may be more work for you to take the extra photos and write the longer post, please know that it is very much appreciated by your admiring audience. And thank you for this deluge of beautiful recent work; it is a joy to behold.

    1. Thank you Mitch, glad you enjoyed it and found the step-by-step useful! I'm going to be having another bash at Watercolours soon, when courage and commitments allow, so watch this space, if they make it off the cutting room floor!


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