What It Takes to Paint Snow in Northern Ontario

by Christy A. Smith

Christy A. Smith loves winter, and it’s a good thing, because she lives in Sudbury, Ontario in Canada, where the average low temperature in January is below zero. She especially likes painting snow, and some of her snow paintings are now on view in a special exhibition.

The show “Snow,” which features Smith’s work, is on view through January 30 at Artists on Elgin in Sudbury. That selection of paintings is not an aberration — Smith says winter is her favorite season.

by Christy A. Smith
by Christy A. Smith

“Crisp winter clear air can’t be any better for you,” says Smith. “The silence draws me, too. I particularly love the stillness, the quietness of winter. The blanket is covering the entire landscape, and winter gives a respite for nature, for animals and plants. It’s the same for people. As a person of humanity, I always thought nature and humans ought to live in balance with each other. Winter starkness represents the cycle of life — birth, growth, and death are all part of that circle. Embrace winter; it’s just as important as other seasons.”

One of Smith’s full moon paintings
One of Smith’s full moon paintings

Although Smith prefers winter, she paints year-round. In fact, she is in the middle of a project in which she paints Northern Ontario en plein air every day for a year. There’s little that can stop her. Smith even paints the winter landscape at night. Well, at least during a full moon. In a previous exhibition Smith showed full moon paintings, including winter scenes. “That was two years ago that I showed that series,” says the artist. “I’m never scared, walking in nature — even at night. I’m more nervous in the city. My approach to nocturnes is to not use a flashlight — just let my eyes adjust. Especially when there is snow on the ground, I can easily see on nights with a full moon.”

Smith painting on location
Smith painting on location

The cold only stops her when the temperatures dip lower than 40 below — even though Smith is a pastelist, which requires fine motor skills. On the other hand, Smith points out that chalk pastels don’t require much equipment, and the lack of solvents is a bonus in freezing temperatures. She reports that even down to zero degrees, she paints barehanded. If it is even colder, Smith will don polyester or satin gloves she finds at thrift stores. When it gets to around 30 below, Smith puts on heavy-duty Ski-Doo mittens, and takes them off just long enough to pick up a stick of pastel and make a mark.

Another piece by Smith
Another piece by Smith

She often paints sitting down, with a tarp and a kayak chair keeping her off the cold and often wet ground. Snow pants help. And although she seems at home in cold temperatures, Smith says that when it is brutal out, she limits her painting sessions to about 30 minutes, and paints smaller — usually 8”-x-10”, but sometimes as large as 16”-x-20”. “I paint quickly, promptly — I go after what I want to get,” she says. “What did today feel like? That’s what I’m after in the cold. And usually the message is, it’s pretty nice out there.”

by Christy A. Smith
by Christy A. Smith

Smith paints in a variety of sizes, and she works on watercolor paper, pastel paper, sanded paper, and canvas, in white or toned grounds. She has pastel color palettes for each season, and agrees that white is not the dominant color of snow, tending more toward pinks, mauves, blues, and purples. She’s been known to paint for 20 minutes, then do jumping jacks to keep the blood circulating and to warm up. It’s all good fun for Smith.

by Christy A. Smith
by Christy A. Smith

“I very seldom go out to paint,” says Smith. “I go out to play, daily.”

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