Breaking the Ice
The Artist's Magazine - November, 2000
Shake off the chill of winter with techniques and thoughts behind eye-grabbing snow scenes.
Make It Fresh
"Most painters who are really interested in color like white because it reflects the most color," says Rowayton, Connecticut, artist Charles Sovek. "Snow is the ultimate white-it covers everything, making it a great reflector, plus it has a remarkable potential for patterns. New snow is like a blanket of freshness stretching over the world, so I think it's also a metaphor for starting over, for renewal.
"I live in a beautiful part of the country, but when the snow falls in New England it borders on cute," he continues. "So you have to be careful not to let a snow painting look too generic. That's one of the reasons I do all of mine on-site or from my car, where I can get that feeling of immediacy and freshness that you just can't get in the studio. I also try to paint less-cute subjects, like a stockade fence behind my studio, for instance. It's not a pretty fence, but it's a real one, and when I included it in a recent snow scene it really looked authentic."
River Ice (gouache, 6x8)
To bring his snow scenes to life, Sovek often relies on the use of contrasting color temperature. "Most snow scenes are cool," he explains, "and by underpainting with a warm, opaque color, I create a great vibration effect that looks very natural. I think this helps compensate for the lack of the other senses (smell, sound, the feeling of cold) not being present in a painting. Another good technique is one taken from John Pike: Wet the white paper, and then float in the most subtle hints of red, yellow and blue, giving an iridescence to the snow that, in fact, is there in real life. Whenever I'm working transparently I do this, but if I'm working opaquely I just drop a little red, yellow or blue directly into the white."
One of Sovek's most revealing discoveries came as the result of a snow painting that didn't work out as he planned. "I once tried to paint lots of little bits of snow and completely flattened out the painting," he says. "After I did some research into the work of other painters, I realized that if you have a light sky, the snow actually can be made a shade darker, and when the snow is against something dark, like a fir tree, it goes lighter. You don't just paint light flakes everywhere. And you don't have to cover everything evenly with the snow to make it look real, either. You'll find that a little bit goes a long way."
Snowy Backyards (detail; gouache, 8x10)