Let’s Paint Winter Woods!

About three years ago I went hiking at Bull Frog Lake, right before evening in January. I came upon a scene that made me pause for a moment and fall in love. Winter’s intense setting sun was casting long shadows from the trees in the woods. Right on que it seemed, three crows in the distance began to caw. I almost wanted to cry. Call me a fool for nature, but West Nile almost eliminated all the crows in my area and I haven’t heard that beautiful, “CAW, CAW, CAW”, in a very long time.  They are my 2nd favorite bird in the world.

So here we go! Let’s remember that moment forever by painting the winter woods…

Step 1: I am using an Ampersand Pastelbord 16×20. This is going to be a watercolor and pastel painting. With charcoal, make a simple sketch before you paint. Remember the 3rd’s rule…great composition happens in thirds. Notice my horizon line is 1/3 from the top. My deer tracks will be 1/3rd from the left.

Here is my reference photo. I had it enlarged and printed at 8×10. Notice I have a clear plastic cover on it. This will help you greatly! I am a very messy painter and get junk all over the place (and I don’t care…it’s part of the process), if I didn’t protect the picture it would have been destroyed.

Step 2: Turn your board upside down. This will help the paint flow down with gravity. Spray the sky with clean water. Using watercolor paints, paint Naples yellow in the sky (remember we are upside down so it is at the bottom). Next, with a mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt umber, paint some distant trees using up and down strokes.

Step 3: When dry, paint some far trees using ultramarine blue and a lot of water so the mixture is not dark. Paint closer trees using a darker mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.

Here is a close-up of the distant trees. I love how the watercolors spread out at the edges representing rough bark…YES! Effortless painting!

Step 4: When completely dry, turn your board right side up. In this step I am just laying down big blocks of color using watercolors. I am only using cobalt blue, ultramarine blue and alizarin in different mixtures. You might be thinking, “Are you nuts? Those colors are so dark!” Don’t worry, most of this will be covered by pastels.

Step 5: With sap green, ultramarine blue, and alizarin crimson, make a black mixture and paint the closest trees. Try to vary their sizes. That took me a long time to accomplish in my early years of painting. Your brain just wants to make trees, so after a while you realise they are all the same thickness. NO! In nature they are all different.  

Step 6: We are done with watercolors. When everything is dry, start painting with pastels. I used a medium Unison purple for the tracks and shadows and a medium blue for snow.

Before Dusk in Deep Snow - watercolor and pastel

Step 7 Final: Make layers and layers of snow, using three different light blues. I also used light purple for the snow as well. On the tree trunks I painted spots of deep dark purple and fuchsia. You can’t really see it, but it is there. I also painted tiny spots of yellow in the snow to reflect the setting sun.

Don’t worry if you do not paint with pastels. You can use the same principles to paint with oils. It’s all about layer upon layer.

“Before Dusk in Deep Snow”

Click here for purchase information.


  1. Wow, you rock, Girl! What a gorgeous painting! I think this is the best I’ve seen so far–love it! And it would be great to go hiking with you. I was thinking that the other day. Only maybe we could skip the freezing drizzle? 😉 Likewise anytime you find yourself in the Black Hills, you definitely need to give me a shout.

    Blessings, Cindy

  2. This is such a beautiful painting. I am putting this in my project idea box. Thanks for your step by step so even those of us who are not confident will be able to have some success.

    Just gorgeous!

  3. Cindy: THanks!OK, no freezing drizzle..ha,ha,ha!

    Barb: Thank you for adding to you project idea box..how neat!

    Joan: Thanks so much, I do love snow!

    Dave, YES! The crows are making a come back, slowly, but a come back none the less!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.