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Pastel Workshops - How To Paint Snow

Updated on February 27, 2019


Fisher 400 paper
Unison pastels:
Faber Castell-Pitt pencils
masking tape
BV8, BV9, BV10, Y1,BE11
Dark grey
drawing board
HB pencil

Snow on The Yarningdale, Moretonhampstead Path

Pastels on Fisher 400 paper
Pastels on Fisher 400 paper | Source

I've been working on this snowy piece for some time. I'm intending to have it printed up into cards that I can then send out as Christmas cards, so if you're reading this, you already know what card you'll receive.

We had a lovely long walk up to Mardon Down, Moreteonhampstead one day when snow was very thick on the ground and the sky was azure blue, so I took a few reference snaps. The painting has been in the planning stage for some time, and for me, planning is 70% of the work. Usually by the time I put pastel to paper, the image is very well formed in my mind. I spend a lot of time working out the composition of my painting before making the first mark, so I knew that I wanted the bright snow on the path to be the main focal point. I also knew that the eye would need to be drawn along the path, hence the bright colours at the rear of the work.

Pastel Workshops - Beginning To Paint With Pastels

For this piece, I taped my favourite Fisher 400 paper to the drawing board and worked on the big studio easel. As I'm right handed, I started with the top left hand corner, so that I'm not dragging my hand through what I've already painted. I rarely draw out my compositions, preferring to transfer what is in my head directly to the page, but you may wish to use an HB pencil to draw out your composition first, to give you a guideline to follow.

I began by blocking in the background foliage using the greens (see table above) from the Unison Landscape Pastel set, keeping the paler colours at the top and getting darker as I worked down the piece. I used patches of the very bright BG9 to suggest sky showing through the leaves. Next I blocked in the shadowy undergrowth using muted grey/greens, A44,45 and some of GY12 for the very darkest shadow.

Pastel Workshops - How To Paint Snow

Beginning a pastel painting
Beginning a pastel painting | Source

The next thing to do was to block in the tree to the left using GY12 for the very dark areas and BE36 for the slightly lighter areas. Then I had fun putting in the snowy foliage, using BV10 for the darkest areas, BV9 for the slightly ligher and BV 8 for lighter still. I then picked out a couple of highlights on the tree trunks and some of the grass with a little A27, a very light cream.

I then began blocking in the snowy banks again using BV10, 9 and 8 for the darkest , mid and light tones of snow and sketched in the bulk of the bright snow with A27.

Pastel Workshops - Adding a Focal Point to Draw the Eye

I then added in the rust-coloured foliage using Y1 and BE11, to draw the eye along the path and allow it to settle in the composition. The next step was to block in the pale green foliage, darker shadow and the very dark tree and foliage to the right. I added some snow-laden branches using the blue violet pastels as before, and overlayed the very dark GY12 with some of the muted grey/greens suggesting thin saplings and some foliage.

I then had fun adding more snow to the path and banks, keeping the foreground very dark, so that the eye ignores this area and wanders along the path.

Pastel Workshops - How To Paint Snow

Blocking in the snow
Blocking in the snow | Source

When creating a painting, I go back and forth between compositional elements, constantly adding colour or shadow, so that the painting balances tonally as a whole. So I spent some time adding more foliage into the background, and using the edges of my shadowy pastels to suggest small branches and twigs and using the dark Blue Violets to suggest more snowy branches. Once I was happy that I had the bulk of the foliage right, I used A27, the very pale cream to add in a few highlights, where the sun might be breaking through the leaves, giving dappled light.

All the time, I have one of my little tins full of ground rice to hand, so that periodically I can drop a few pastels in and give them a shake to clean them up. If I don't clean up as I go along, the pastels gradually take on a sludge colour from my dirty hands, making it difficult to see which one is which. I also have a small piece of the paper that I'm using on my work-table, so that I can test the colour of my chosen pastel before using it, as the pigments look completely different on paper than they do in the box. However, by the time I put pastel to paper I already have my colour palette planned in my head.

Pastel Workshops - Adding Interest To Your Pastel Landscape

I continued to block in the snow, using my blue violets, and A27 pale cream for the highlighted areas, painting violets into the cream and cream into the violets until I felt I had the snow about right.

I then felt it important to 'tie' the background and foreground together, so added a small snow-laden gorse bush (furze) to the right of the path, using two of the mid greens and a splash of the same yellows/oranges that I used in the background. This makes the composition more pleasing to the eye and less jarring.

For the branches of the gorse I used Gy12, plus Pitt pencils in dark grey and sand.

Pastel Workshops - Building Up The Painting

Adding more depth into the painting
Adding more depth into the painting | Source

I then completed the snow, by adding a complementary colour, RE1 an pale pink to the outer areas of cream snow, to suggest that the white light was being split into its rainbow colours by coming through the leaves at a low angle. This has the effect of suggesting highlights within the foreground, but without drawing the eye away from the main focal point. It also has the effect of 'lifting' the painting, by adding a contrasting colour, further adding interest to the work.

Pastel Workshops - Finishing The Painting

The final work to be done on the painting was to add small amounts of grass, debris etc into the snow, particularly in the foreground to make the work look more realistic. For all of this I used the dark GY12 and the dark grey Pitt pencil, with a little sand pastel pencil where branches emerge into the bright light.

I simply made various scrapes, blobs and scratches to suggest grass and twigs, then used GY12 to suggest what might be footprints. A few random shavings of pastel added a somehwat uncontrollable element to the finished piece.

To finish up, I sprayed the painting with Spectra Fix, Degas fixative, that is made from milk casein and that doesn't destroy the pigment of the work, as the painting will be for sale in my etsy store unframed, so I want the work to be resilient and not smudge.

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    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      12 months ago from Dartmoor

      Hi Debbie,

      the way I show texture with anything, whether it's snow, sand, trees, whatever, is to use three different toned pastels. So I would block in the area you're trying to paint, with a mid tone (for snow maybe mid-grey, lilac, or blue). At this stage you could spray it with fixative to make subsequent layers easier to apply.

      Then I'd add texture with my lightest tone pastel (maybe white, or pale grey/blue, lilac), being careful to leave some of the mid-tone showing through. And finally add just a little of the darkest tone pastel in a few areas to add some shadow.

    • profile image

      Debbie Alves 

      12 months ago

      This is a stunning work - thank you so much for your detailed explanation of how you created it. I am fairly new to the medium, and find myself constantly trying to create images from the gorgeous Moscow winter when I lived there. I’ve been able to convey many aspects, but one continually throws me - how to capture the fluffiness of snow in piles, especially at a slight distance. Do you have any suggestions or referrals? I’d be very grateful.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I like the explanation very much. Thank you.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Love this demonstration. Have so much trouble adding tonal value to snow & this article really helped. Wish it was a video so I could paint along with you. Thank you for such a detailed lesson.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      5 years ago

      I have no talent for painting, but find this fascinating. Nice work.

    • frogyfish profile image


      7 years ago from Central United States of America

      I am not a painter but loved the detailed steps of description you gave as the 'vision' became reality. Your Path is beautiful, calling one to traipse in that snow down the curved path and trees. Just lovely!

    • thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

      Claudia Smaletz 

      7 years ago from East Coast

      The work is beautiful and the hub was informative. I think I've seen your work before. I recognize your distinct signature, anyway, isn't pastel the most decadent medium to work in? Next to watercolor, it is my favorite. Those Unisom colors are something else aren't they. They're almost pure pigment. I myself really enjoy the Schminkes pastels. Voted up.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      7 years ago from Wales, UK

      Beautiful - I love that you work from the vision in your head! I have pictures like that too - unfortunately my hand never agrees with it :)

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      7 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks Waheed. I also love snow, although it makes it difficult to drive to work!

    • Waheed Chuahdary profile image

      Waheed Chuahdary 

      7 years ago from United States

      I love the snow falling and also love the snow fall seen creation. I like your photo Thanks for sharing this voted up..

    • loveofnight profile image

      Loveofnigjht Anderson 

      7 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I see that you have finished my Christmas gift, don't worry about framing it; I'll do that myself. I love your paintings, you have a way of making it all look easy.Good info. thanks


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