George W. Handrahan, "Cold Morning—Warm Light," 2008, oil on linen, 12 x 16 inches, Cam & Cindy Eggerts collection

Painting snowy landscapes presents a number of challenges to plein air painters, beginning with the fact that the outdoor temperatures are low and can make it difficult for cold fingers to manipulate stiff or frozen paint.  Then there is an issue of mixing a range of whites or reserving sections of watercolor paper in ways that convey the depth of the scene, the warmth or coolness of the colors, and the stark contrast in values.

“We naturally tend to think of snow as being only white because the local color or value of snow is white,” says Utah artist George W. Handrahan.  “However, it takes on many other colors as influenced by reflected light and shadows, with only the highlights actually being a warm or cool white.  Pushing or exaggerating these colors can make a winter painting more interesting.”

Stephen Gary Frisk, “Cold in New Hampshire,” 2015, oil on linen panel, 16 x 20 inches, private collection
Christopher Leeper, “Winter Vista,” 2017, watercolor, 21 x 29 inches
Susan McCullough, “Miners Creek,” 2017, oil, 14 x 18 inches
Jill Stefanir Wagner, “Wintering,” 2016, pastel, 16 x 12 inches
Brienne Brown, “Stillness of Winter,” 2016, watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches
Carol Swinney, “Wyoming Winter,” 2017, oil on canvas, 12 x 24 inches, private collection
Suzanne Morris, “A Winter Tale,” 2017, oil on linen panel, 9 x 12 inches, private collection
Peter Campbell, “Winter Creek,” 2017, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches
Ed Cooper, “Last of the Snow,” 2017, oil, 24 x 36 inches
Steven Gerhartz, “20 Below,” 2017, oil on canvas, 30 x 48 inches, Gallery of Wisconsin Art
George W. Handrahan, “Night Lights,” 2015, oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches, private collection


  1. When investigating snow scenes and how to portray them, two oil painters to consider are Irby Brown and Aldro Hibbard. Both perfected their technique to include a glow of light with a sense of the cold surroundings.


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