The Teens and Elementary Art Students had so much fun creating these snowy watercolor landscapes.
This fun and colorful project focused on landscape perspective principles of background, middle ground, and foreground. The focal point of the paintings is a snow-covered evergreen tree. This was a big project with several different watercolor techniques and many lessons.
The students started by tracing the shapes of snow on the tree's branches onto their watercolor paper.
Watercolor is a transparent paint project often done in layers. Watercolor artists rarely use white paint, so the white of the paper is saved as the white in a painting. We taught the students how to save the white snow on the evergreen tree by applying masking fluid in the shapes they had drawn to keep the paint out of those areas.
Once the white snow was saved, we painted our sunset or sunrise backgrounds. We talked about the three primary colors- yellow, red, and blue and how those colors make up the color triad we would use for our underpainting. We started with a wet-into-wet watercolor technique called a three-way wash. We also used a pouring technique using droppers instead of brushes to apply the paint.
The first step is to wet the watercolor paper with lots of water. Then, in one corner, we applied yellow paint. Next, we surrounded the yellow with red paint, and lastly added the blue paint.
This is where the magic of watercolor starts! We picked up our paintings and squirted the yellow with water, which started the different colors to flow into each other.
This was a fun lesson in color mixing! The yellow runs into the red and makes orange. The red runs into the blue and makes purple. The tricky part was to be sure the yellow did not run into the blue and make green. We didn't want green skies!
As a finishing touch, the students could choose to sprinkle salt onto their damp paintings to create the look of snow. The salt absorbs the pigment of the paint and leaves interesting shapes. More watercolor magic! It was time to let the paintings dry.
Our next class focused on creating a background perspective with a distant tree line and painting the closer tree and the focal point of the painting.
We talked about how colors closer to you in landscape paintings look warmer and brighter. Colors become cooler and paler as they move into the distance. Also, you can see details and texture closer to you, but things become less distinct the further away they are.
Now it was time to learn about mixing greens. We practiced making cooler duller greens that would look like distant trees and warmer, brighter greens that would look like trees closer to the viewer.
The distant tree line was painted with a wet-into-wet technique to look softer and out of focus, with cooler green colors. Next, the brighter and warmer greens were used wet into dry for the closer focal point tree. We talked about where the source of light was coming from and how the part of the tree the sun was hitting would have the warmest greens, and the opposite side would have some darker greens. Finally, some students added foreground details like grasses coming out of the snow or a reflection of the distant tree line in a lake!
Finally, it was the exciting moment when we removed the masking fluid and revealed our saved whites. They really pop! To make the snow more realistic, we added some purple shadows. Next, we softened some of our hard edges with magic erasers and flat brushes. Finally, as a last step, students could use a toothbrush and splatter white gouache all over their paintings to make it look like it was snowing!
Yes, we let them use white paint. But, trust me, they reminded us we weren't supposed to. This big advanced watercolor project was filled with lots of lessons, watercolor techniques, and fun! We were so impressed with how they grasped all of these concepts!
Jamie Lightfoot is an oil painter and owner of Picket Fence Art Studio.