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Art Masterclass - 122

How to Paint a Snowy Landscape in Watercolour with Julie King

December 2016

In a warm studio on a cold winter’s day I’m ready to translate one of my photographs into a watercolour painting. The scene I have chosen is brought alive by the figures, with their brightly coloured clothing, walking into the landscape and providing a focal point. Using artistic licence, I decided to change the composition slightly by omitting the fence and by adding stronger footprints from the foreground, which assist in leading the eye into the picture. It also gives the painting balance, as I will be using the same colours throughout the scene.

The secret to painting a snow scene is to leave plenty of white paper rather than using white paint. However, as an experiment, I added acrylic gesso with a palette knife to the paper to suggest the raised texture of the frozen snow on the branches, which gives the picture a slight three-dimensional effect when dry. Then, using sharpened bamboo dipped into masking fluid I applied a few loose finer lines and splattered the surface using a toothbrush flicked with a paper clip. To add even more texture to the frozen branches I applied Clingfilm to the wet paint.

I used a limited palette of five colours, mixing cool and warm shades of mauve and green to create an impressionistic interpretation.

This demonstration is a guideline to help you practise a variety of watercolour techniques. I hope you go on to produce imaginative scenes from your own photographs.

Demonstration - A Winter's Walk

You will need:


  • Bockingford or Fabriano Artistico 140lb NOT watercolour paper stretched or on a black 11x15in (28x38cm)


  • Cotman mop brush 19mm
  • Round Nos. 8 and 10 (I used Da Vinci Maestro Kolinsky sable)
  • Rigger No. 3

Golden QOR watercolours


  • B pencil
  • Pebeo masking fluid
  • Acrylic gesso and palette knife
  • Old toothbrush, paper clip and sharpened bamboo

Step 1

Using a B pencil, lightly sketch out the scene, referring to the photograph.

winter scene sketch

Step 2

Add texture by applying white gesso with a spatula knife. Drag the gesso downwards on the flat side and the edge of the knife in the direction of the growth of the branches.

add texture with gesso


Step 3

Allow to dry before applying masking fluid freely with a sharpened piece of bamboo to suggest snow on the top of the branches. This will help retain the brilliant white of the paper. Add finer splatters of masking fluid using a toothbrush and a paper clip on the left side and on the smaller tree to the right.

add masking fluid to suggest snow

Step 4
  1. Prepare two pools of colour by combining alizarin crimson and ultramarine to make two shades of mauve: a pink mauve and a cooler blue mauve.

  2. Lightly wet the surface of the paper to the horizon using a mop brush.

  3. Beginning with the pink mauve shade, paint sweeping brushstrokes with a No. 10 Round brush either side of the main trunk, becoming denser towards the horizon. Add the blue mauve, with touches of a blue green made from ultramarine and Hansa yellow medium.

  4. While still damp increase the strength of colour in the lower area with neat ultramarine and a grey mauve created by adding Hansa yellow to the purple.

  5. Providing the area is still damp add sweeping brushstrokes of burnt sienna mixed with ultramarine blue.

sweep colours across

Step 5
  1. Lay a sheet of Clingfilm on the wet area and crunch it up.

  2. Leave to dry before removing it, resulting in further texture.

lay clingfilm and crunch to create texture

Step 6
  1. Prepare two shades of green using Hansa yellow and ultramarine blue.

  2. Begin applying the left-hand foliage. Working wet on dry and using the No. 10 brush draw a brushstroke upwards to suggest the dark trunk on the snowy white background and the leafy profile. Diffuse with water to cover the foliage area, except for the thick branch.

  3. Use strong colour and vary the tones by applying areas of neat ultramarine blue, dark green – a mixture of Payne’s grey and Hansa yellow – and a rich purple made of alizarin and Payne’s grey.

vary tones of green to paint foliage

Step 7
  1. Wet the distant ridge of snow and add soft tones of mauve.

  2. Draw a brushstroke of mauve beneath the tree on the right and diffuse.

  3. Add more depth in the background to suggest the density of trees by adding Hansa yellow to the mauve mix. Work wet on dry leaving gaps to suggest tree trunks.

add depth to the background


Step 8

Apply burnt sienna, wet on dry, to the tree trunk leaving the area at the top white. While damp, drop in a rich purple mix

tree trunk


Step 9
  1. Continue painting branches using the No. 8 brush followed by the No. 3 Rigger to achieve finer brushstrokes.

  2. Add ultramarine to the burnt sienna to add more depth. Add the smaller tree trunks.

  3. Wet the mid-tone tree above the trunk on the right and add more strength of tone with a purple mix.

painting branches


Step 10

Remove the masking fluid to reveal the white of the paper and add a few more fine branches.

remove masking fluid


Step 11

Begin to paint the figures. Using colours of your choice, place a simple background wash on the clothing, wet on dry. While damp, drop in stronger tones to give depth and form.

paint foreground figures


Step 12

Continue with the figures in the distance.

paint background figures


Step 13

Add foliage wet on dry at the base of the trees to the left, using blue green shades. Add burnt sienna combined with ultramarine blue while damp.

paint on foliage


Step 14

Finally, lead the eye into the picture by adding a suggestion of footsteps in the snow, using varying shades of mauve and blue. Add yellow to the purple to make it less intense.

a winter's walk

The finished painting A Winter’s Walk, watercolour on NOT watercolour paper, (28x38cm)

Julie King

Julie is the author of How to Paint Flowers in Watercolour and Irises in Watercolour (published by Search Press).

You can purchase Irises in Watercolour in our online bookshop by clicking here.

Find out more about Julie and her work by visiting

This demonstration is taken from the January 2017 issue of Leisure Painter.

Click here to purchase your copy.


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