Even in winter an isolated patch
of snow has a special quality.
But, how do you draw it?!
As anyone who has stared at a wintry scene knows, winter poses a unique set of drawing dilemmas and opportunities.
Some of the hurdles were identified by Harvard students and faculty during ‘Drawn to Science’ and ‘Drawn to the Landscape’ courses I led in January. Thanks to the enthusiasm and curiosity of those students, I had a great excuse to go looking for specific answers. I mined reference books and online resources, and have come up with recommendations for how to meet these winter sketching challenges.
Here’s what we were grappling with in Petersham, Mass. Please do feel free to share more suggestions and references in the comments!
- Drawing trees in a forest of trees
- Drawing trees, branches, rocks, fences, and other things with snow piled on them.
- Drawing ice (on something and on/in water)
- Drawing a sunset/clouds without color
- Drawing tracks in the snow
- Making things look 3-dimensional
- How to draw curvy surfaces (such as plant leaves)
How to draw
specific subjects (in winter)
1. Drawing trees in a forest of trees
Pages 179-192 of Cathy Johnson’s The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature deal with drawing trees and forest scenes in great depth. From how to draw different species to how to draw roots, tree branching patterns, and whole landscapes, her explanations are straightforward and easy to follow.
Although typically, objects and spaces become lighter (gray and white) the farther they are from the foreground of a drawing, forests can be an exception. In many cases, you may find it makes visual sense to sketch a few foreground trees clearly – with little detail – leaving them primarily white. Then, the background becomes increasingly dark and less distinct, in order to emphasize the forms of the foreground shapes.
- The Artistic Anatomy of Trees by Rex Vicat Cole
- This ‘wiki-how’ simplifies drawing a forest into a few judiciously placed lines.
Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal provides detailed line drawing examples of how to draw leaves, branches, full trees, etc. Excerpts from that book are available in this online pamphlet about how to draw trees.
2. Drawing trees, branches, rocks, fences, and other things with snow piled on them.
Interestingly, I found very little about how to draw snow, although one would think that was an obvious topic for a winter drawing how-to.
Although there is little instruction, Shari Blaukopf’s blog “The Sketchbook” provides daily examples of drawing and watercolor sketching. Since she lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, there are several months each year where most of her posts are about snowy scenes. Just looking closely at how she draws/paints shadows (using color, shape, etc.) is an education in rendering snow.
My brief suggestions re the mechanics of drawing snow on top of things:
- Look at how snow piles up, how it overlays or hangs off the edges of what it sits on. Take time to draw in the shadows cast by the snow where it overlaps with the object it sits on.
- Remember that in color shorthand, blues, purples, and grays will make people automatically think “cold,” so try limiting your colors in winter scenes to cool colors until you feel you’ve mastered that effect.
- And, as Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal suggests, try drawing “around” snow, with light dotted or broken lines on the top edges, to suggest that it is not as solid and dark as the surface upon which it is piled.
- From your imagination (note techniques should be transferable to outdoor drawing)
- This YouTube video shows how to draw a snow-covered tree in pencil.
- This YouTube video shows snow-covered conifer drawing using colored pencils.
- Graham Booth is a UK watercolor artist, and this 20-minute video shows how to create a snow scene in watercolor. There are a few lessons to be learned, which with practice, could be simplified for more rapid outdoor sketching.
- Visit the Artist’s Journal Workshop Facebook group for a host of folks (of varying skill sets) who will be happy to provide suggestions for nearly any sketching question. I searched for “snow” and found lots of examples of style/color/techniques for dealing with snow, but no specific instructions. I posted the snow sketching question there, so check back to see if we get any detailed answers.
3. Drawing ice (on something and on/in water)
So far, this question is still seeking an answer. In some senses, drawing ice on water would be similar to drawing snow (see #2 above), but there is the added challenge of translucent ice.
I will update this post when I find more resources that would likely be helpful.
4. Drawing a sunset/clouds without color
This detailed explanation of how to draw skies and clouds will be useful, though the process is more time-consuming than some may prefer. This highly detailed sky-drawing video introduces several cloud/sky drawing techniques. And, this step-by-step tutorial explains how to use shading and erasing to build up cloud shapes.
All of these techniques can be practiced indoors or out, looking at reference images or the sky overhead. A combination of both types of practice should help you build up muscle memory and the ability to sketch skies and clouds more quickly.
One key point to keep in mind is that a sky is typically darker at the top (overhead/top of the page), and lighter as it nears the horizon. This is particularly true in the case of a sunset, but holds true under nearly any light conditions.
- Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal provides really simple explanations of how to draw skies, clouds, etc.
- Cathy Johnson’s The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature (page 161) shows slightly more detailed ways of rendering various types of sky/cloud combos.
5. Drawing tracks in the snow
- Here are some things to keep in mind when drawing tracks in general.
- As with snow piled on a branch, the edges of tracks in the snow can be drawn with a broken/dotted line, to indicate they aren’t a solid shape.
- Also, pay attention to how the light falls on the track, and lightly shade in where the inside of the track is shaded. That helps the viewer understand the shape has dimension.
- If drawing a track just as an outline so you can look it up later, pay attention to the overall shape (oval, rectangular, square, etc.), as well as the true dimensions. Use something like your thumb (mine measures 1″ from the first knuckle to the end) to measure the track length and width (and depth!). Note those measurements alongside, or on top of, your sketch.
- Also, make note of whether you can see claw marks, how many toes the animal has and where they are located on the foot/track, how old the tracks seem to be, and if possible, what the gait/pattern of the animal was. The gait could be indicated just with dots or dashes. Ex: —– or :: ::
- If drawing the tracks in a scene/landscape, be aware that they will be elongated/distorted, and should follow the contour of the ground, in order to appear as though they are receding from view. Similarly, the tracks should become smaller, lighter, and less distinct as they move away from the foreground.
6. Making things look 3-dimensional
This video explains shading and dimensional drawing in less than 5 minutes. Cathy Johnson’s The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature (pages 67-72) provides a detailed explanation of how to ‘capture the illusion of light.’
7. How to draw curvy surfaces (such as plant leaves)
The California Native Plant Society field journal curriculum (pages 16-20) details how to draw plants and flowers of different shapes. Pages 21-22 specifically explain how to draw curly and overlapping petals and leaves. Keep reading in this e-book for information on how to draw birds, too.
Cathy Johnson’s The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature (page 165-178) and Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal, are also great resources for how to draw plants, animals, and landscapes.