How to Paint Snow Covered Mountains

What is the one thing that always creates interest in an oil painting? The one thing that stands out more than any other part? Of course it is the mountain or mountains in the background. A snow capped mountain almost always becomes the object in a painting that draws people to take a second look. After all mountains represent the strength of nature, standing there high above everything else.

When I start a painting that has a mountain I have to think to myself, How much of a focal point do I want the mountain to be. If it is to be the main object in the painting I usually paint it large enough to draw all eyes to it. The rest of the painting sort of fills out around it. When it is not I generally paint it smaller to allow something else to be the focal point. However no matter if it is the focal point or not the steps to paint them is the same.

First thing to decide is the position. A common mistake beginner artist make is the start right in the middle of the canvass. What this does is split the canvass in two and does not allow the person looking at the painting to let their eyes wonder. Letting their eyes wonder is what you want, so position of the mountain is important. Try to position the mountain just off center, either to the right or left. Do not paint them at the edge of the canvass or the persons eyes will “fall of the canvass”.

Step two is mixing the base color. Take a pallet knife and mix a base color of blue with a little alizoran crimson. If the Mountain is going to be far away I might want to lighten the mix with a little gray. Notice I said Gray and not white. The gray will have to be on the lighter shade but the reason I use gray is things that are far away are not lighter but grayer. This is my rule but if you like you can use white.

Now using the knife draw the basic shape of the mountain peaks. Really scrape the paint into the canvass. Don’t make basic triangles but try to think about where rocks may be as you draw the shape. Now take a dry brush and pull down from the peaks. This does two things. First it takes away access paint and it allows you to create the angle of the mountain. Don’t pull straight down but on an angle.

Next is the highlight. Take some straight white, Light Gray, or a mixture of white with a small amount of red to make a light Pink (Make sure the pink is light.). Starting at the top of the highest peak (using no pressure) Pull the paint down. When you do this with no pressure the base color underneath pulls off just enough of the highlights. Let the paint break! Do not go over it again and again! All you will do is cover up all the base color and that is not what you want to do. Also remember to follow the angle you created with the brush a moment ago.

The next step is the shadow color. Take a “little” blue or a combination of blue and black and add it to the highlight color. Using the same technique you used for the highlight color, add the shadow color only going in the opposite direction. When you do this however it might be a good idea to place your knife right where the highlight ends. This way there is no break in the snow.

Now you can go back and forth with the highlight, and shadow color creating different peaks on the mountain. Just continue to follow these techniques. Oh and one last thing. Take a clean brush and tap the bottom of the mountain to create a mist effect. (This is done on a wet on wet canvass) This way you can start on other parts of the painting without worrying about going into your mountain colors.