Happiness Is A Snow Day.

FINALLY. As I sit here typing this, Thursday morning Feb 9, a blizzard is pounding my Isle of Long with silent fury. It is a heavy, wet, swirling snowfall and we’ve been warned to expect “disruptions” due to the storm but so far, the power has not gone out obviously. Yay. I sit here in preparedness for any and all catastrophes. I have a just-poured cup of tea, plenty of English muffins for toasting, a good book set aside (The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis), and a 1,000-piece picture puzzle to break open at a moment’s notice. Plus, I have peace of mind that all my kitties are accounted for:

Taffy and his mom Candy

The outlaw Bibs


Lickety at the den picture window, hoping for some action on his Birdie TV

Dennis in the backyard hutch, with his breakfast bowls (he also got a huge lunch served to him in the shed, because turns out he didn’t care for the picnic set up)

Right: I shoveled a path to the garage just so I could deliver feed to my crush, Steve, who is wisely staying put in his new cubby:

And, oh yes, I got the Champagne-O-Meter set up:

This was how it looked yesterday (Wednesday), when it was 60 degrees (16 C) and I debated whether or not it was cruel to abandon perfectly decent cheap champagne outside in such a heat wave. But I had faith in all the dire forecasts of debilitating snow because, science, and just for you, Dear Readers, I plonked my bottle down.

Full report at the end of this blog.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

Remember last week I told you that I was going to paint a monochrome Winter for you, a snowy scene in shades of blue?

Well, I lied. I’m not going to paint in monochrome today, I’m not going to paint this scene (below) in shades of blue:

Because I really need to use white in this picture (which I have cropped to my liking) and, it seems to me, black:

The first thing I do when I set my sights on painting from a reference photo is to think hard about my strategy. I ask myself, How am I going to paint this? especially in the case of trying something new. Maybe I have a new idea of how to get this done. Think think think.

OK, I’ve thought about it and I think I have a plan.

So this is the strategy that I thought hard about how to paint my blue snow picture. . .

. . . which is to wash the entire picture surface with a moody mix of Prussian and Cobalt blue mixed with a smudge of black. I slather on the paint heavily at the top to a lighter, and thin it out at the bottom, before slapping in a splash of Royal blue as a feature in the landscape:

I really want a rich, multi-layered wash here, which is why I have mixed several different shades of blue into it. (P.S. I am using my cheap Grumbacher paints for the first wash, and a dab of my more saturated Winsor Newton paint in the swipe you see here (above).)

Let dry, and hope you get a smooth color field, with some interesting watery residue (I do love letting watercolor do what it wants to do):

See the watery smudge on the bottom? I LOVE that!

Now I make  the only pencil lines I’ll draw, to guide me in my future tree-making:

I get out my tube of acrylic paint, called Titanium White, to make my treetop snow:

So now I’ve got the white bits of my moon-lit forest:

I’m using black to paint in the foliage . . .

. . . which I will continue to do even as I get to the part where I have to imagine where the blue snow is:

This was my well thought out plan, to use the blue/black wash to form both the sky and the blue-in-the-shadows snow:

I think it works!

But I’m not done. Because there is a crescent moon in my reference photo, I’m going to paint one into my watercolor, like this:

As soon as I stepped back to get a look at this, I knew that I should have made the moon smaller, and full. I don’t like the crescent — and duh, I have artistic license to change whatever I want. I could have improved this pic with a full moon but nooooooo, I got stuck in my mind loop of slavish obedience to the reference photo.

Dear Readers, don’t do what I did.  Time spent thinking about how you want to edit your reference photos is time that is always well spent. I wish I’d thought a little bit harder when I was plotting out my plan for this pic. Lesson learned.

Here’s hint when it comes to painting moons, in whatever phase: the shape has to be perfect. So don’t try to draw it on your own. (Notice that I don’t use the term “free hand”. I have never liked that terminology. I have my reasons.) There’s tool you can use to get the curvature just right, and I beg you to get one:

I won’t draw a moon, or sun, or sphere without it.

Now, if you glance at the pic so far. . .

. . . you might be tempted to call it DONE. And it could stand as is, and be an OK pic. But let’s say we want to flirt with failure. Let’s say we want to try out another trick, just to see if we can pull it off. Even if it means ruining the whole thing forever. OK?

So, let’s do a clear water wash on the bottom bit of the scene, like this:

And let’s blob in some very pretty hue (again with the Winsor Newton stuff), and let the watercolor do what it wants to do:

Oooooooooo! The gamble paid off! I LOVE this:

Again, we could leave well enough alone, and call it DONE. But something wants me to do ONE MORE THING, and that’s to match the color of the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the trees with the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the ground:

So I paint in some Winsor Newton color, and then add more shadow to the far side stand of trees, and dab in some white highlights to the snow on the other side of the shadows:

And also futz with the cusp of shadow on the tree branches:

And, now, let’s see if all that futzing screwed us up:

So, starting from scratch a few weeks ago, when I was first learning how to paint snow-laden evergreens . . .

. . . we now end up here:

I’m not bragging. I’m pointing out how practice, doing it over and over, works. You can’t help but get better! I know that most people how give How To lessons want to come off as experts from the get-go, but I think it’s more informative if you see how not-hard it is to teach yourself something new, which at first you will e total crap at, until you get it. ANYONE CAN DO THIS!

Dear Reader Christine Commented last week that she hoped we would paint a blue Winter tree like the one on page 187 in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

I did this illustration circa 2006 or 2007, back in the early days of my painting, back when I used fluid resist to blank out the white bits on those trees in the pic below. As for that blue tree, that was a sketch that I did, futzing around with my paints, learning what I could do with them, and I remember exactly how I got that background effect of a swirly cloud between the branches of that tree. How about I show you all ow to do it, when we re-paint that for next week? And Christine, that pic will go to you.

And for Wonder One Deborah Hatt, who made the suggestion that started this whole Winter Watercolor series in the first place: if you want this week’s Blue in the Shadows Pine Trees pic, it’s yours.

And now, without further ado, here’s your Champagne-O-Meter 2017:

7:30 am:

8:30 am:

9:30 am:


Blue Jay:

As of now, I am waiting to take the 10:30 am pic so if this blog stops here you’ll know it’s because we have lost power and I am busy toasting English muffins in the fireplace and breaking open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Or, all is well but I’ve just broken open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you in Boyleston on Sunday!


15 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Lovely painting, I am very impressed. So good to see all the cats all cosy. All’s right with the world. I envy your snow 39C to day 41C forecast for tomorrow… it started in the last weeks of November and has been pretty consistent with a couple of cool days thrown in to keep us on our toes. We are also suffering from power outs, apparently you cannot buy a fan for love or money!!! Enjoy the cold and cuddle a cat or two.

  2. I love this recent one..and I love Titanium white..:)

    And I love a good snowstorm..it passed us by:(

    we got ice..cars were ice cubes..snowbanks ice banks..not good..lots of work..bad roads.
    I have come to love Indanthrone Blue DS.

  3. Anonymous

    Beautiful painting, I really enjoy watching your process. Did you use acrylic or watercolor for the black? My Tafata, a calico, was 18yrs old and recently passed on. I always enjoyed sketching and painting her too. She was a stray kitten that showed up one day and never left. I keep hoping you will do a book about cats as you seem to love them so, and the way you talk about them is very entertaining.

  4. Well, I hope you’ve broken open and are enjoying the champagneometer because with all that snow and a fab painting to boot, you deserve it!

    I have been taking your words to heart on doing it over and over and over. I just posted my first commission — someone’s dead cat, which is the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. So I did it over and over. The ones in the post (plus a couple that never made it that far.) And all through all the times I felt like Vivian was holding my hand, saying, “That’s good.” And as often (or more) the more positive equivalent of “That’s pretty crappy.” The client liked it and actually paid me and I’m not sure I could have got it better. But I know that I have to keep trying. Now I can start working on my winter trees a la Vivian! So thank you.

    Glad to see Candy is on the couch. Bit by bit!

  5. My Dearest Vivian, What do you mean by asking me “IF” I want your latest, oh-so-very-lovely “Blue In The Shadows Pine Trees” painting?! OF COURSE I want it!! It’s beautiful! I love every tiny smidgen of it’s itsy-bitsy self! Bravo, my dear! Your blues are perfect, and your use of the Titanium White acrylic is just right. Thank you so much for all the good pointers, every step of the way, too. Us poor wannabees are hungry for enlightenment, and you so aptly inspire us on our way. Thank you so much, Vivian!

    All your cozy kitties are so blatantly blissful, it makes my spirit sigh, “Ahhhhh!” just looking at them. No creature on the planet can demonstrate rest, repose, luxurience, somnolence, tranquility, and/or calm like a feline. May God bless their race, for their beauty and all the joy and comfort they bring to us. How we love our kitties!

    Well, here in the middle of the vast stretching fields and orchards of Michigan farm country, we are snowless!! It is biting cold, windy, and gray – with ground as hard as stone – and NO SNOW. ICKY! We like snow, because it brightens our world, makes everything clean and smooth … and of course, it’s simply beautiful. Maybe the next blizzard will pay us a visit. But, considering the harsh weather much of the rest of the country has endured this winter, I think it wise not to complain, right? However, I must say, there is “something that feeds the soul” when a blizzard comes. And there are so many lovely photo ops after it’s over, too! More fodder for your wintery tutorials, yes?

    God Bless, my dear Vivian. Happy Trails this week, as you continue to paint in the Key of Blue. I eagerly await my sweet, lovely prize! Hooray!!! THANKS!!

  6. Vicki Abbott

    Okay, I’ve got to know: Do you have an assistant to help you with setups and photos? Or is this strictly a one-woman operation?

  7. Betsy Akins

    So glad your buddies are warm and cozy. Your blues are luscious and your guidance makes it seem so possible. I can’t wait to see how in the world you get the hazy white cloud behind the tree next week. Here in Atlanta we are having luminous deep blue skies as a backdrop for blooming pink redbud trees. It’s too early for blooming but the plants are really confused with global warming. I greatly appreciate your gifts of beauty and humor shining through the steady stream of disturbing news.

  8. Patricia

    I love Patty’s suggestion of a book about cats. Your readers could share their best stories about their cats. The only ghost I’ve ever seen was my last cat Shredder, who showed up for her night time treat after she died. She gave me the “it’s time for my kitty treat right now!” look and wandered off to the basement stairs where she always got her treat. I got up and double checked, of course, no cat. But I saw her quite clearly, looking just like always. Not ghostly at all.

  9. Becky

    I love the pictures of the kitties all cozy and warm. So glad to see Candy all copied up.
    I loved the snow covered pines…Gorgeous. thank you for sharing the process

  10. Tana in Tucson

    Thank you X 100! A while back I asked you for a how-to book, but this is better — it comes with precious pet photos. You can keep the snow, though. Here in the desert we don’t mind chilling our champagne in the fridge if it means no more windshield-scraping. But again, serious thanks for your brilliant and fun (and self-deprecatingly funny) tutorials. They’re absolutely priceless, and greatly appreciated.

  11. Christine

    Oh joy! Oh rapture! I am honored and thrilled! Is it Friday yet?? Thank you from my heart.

    I enjoyed the process for the snowy pines (I like how you tell us what you’re thinking as you show us each layer) and was impressed by the end result, especially so when you showed us the diminutive scale.

    And was that a current picture of Candy on the couch? A major step toward a return of trust and security!

  12. Kirra

    Champagne-o-meter! Yeah! Such a cool way to chill your champagne. Love your cozy cats too, even the ones outside.

    Congratulations on the lovely blue snow pairing. Keep warm!

  13. You give us all hope that our crappy little endeavors might some day turn out as lovely as your winter scene. So glad you and the kitties are all safe, sound and snug.

  14. Kitty

    I don’t know who you are. I was just looking for a cat taking a nap on a snow day & the www brought me here. I’m glad. Your writing made me keep reading. Your painting is beautiful. Thank you. You may have a new follower.

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