Working with a photograph: ‘When the snow came’

I found this digital photograph, actually taken by my husband, that he took out on a walk when I was away.  It is remarkable because it had actually snowed (and I missed it!) and it was clearly visible on the mountains beyond Jimena. I think it fulfills the criteria for this exercise, with the mountains in the distance and the castle rising in the foreground. The challenge will be the create the snow in a believable way on that mountain…


I want the snow to stand out in a bright and clear way. Maybe if I try a textured sky in very pale pink and blue, then use white with a background of black mixed with blue on the mountain, this might jump out as cold snow against the sky.

The next hill has some interesting movement in it with the rise and fall so I will want to look at the patterns created here. This needs to be pale with some blue-ness for the aerial perspective to work.

Then the foreground with the castle – I want to show up the houses below more and make the castle stand out maybe in similar colour to the house roofs. the rising rocks and trees will be in warmer greens and earthy neutrals. I don’t want to change the composition too much; I like it as it is.

Overall, I want a loose, textured finish with lots of patterns in the brushmarks.

(Music: ‘Flower of the mountain’ Kate Bush. (Strangely, this was running through my head while painting and I looked up the lyrics – ‘And Gibraltar as a girl where I was a flower of the mountain yes When I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used
Or shall I wear red, yes, And how he kissed me under the Moorish wall
And I thought well, as well him as another’. Had no idea it was about here!)  – Just found out it is actually from the end of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’)

I wish this was my colour study 🙂 but it’s Turner’s: ‘Dolbadarn Castle: Colour Study’


Dolbadarn Castle: Colour Study 1798-9 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Taking inspiration from this colour study. I love the loose brush work and the pinkness in the sky, followed by the white and blue-grey of the mountains and the earth colours of the castle and the foreground. And the little pop of red…not sure what it is but it works so well.

Below: Castle sketch, linear study of the patterns, snow effects and colour study.


I still wasn’t happy about the snow mountain, so tried again with a bluer sky against black and white, which seemed better.  But I am not sure. 20170727_180853


So far….


I will look with fresh eyes tomorrow to see what else is needed.

Next day. I need to do a tonal study, even though there is no obvious shadows. The hills are too flat looking. The sky is not right and I think needs to be paler.

I looked carefully and worked out where the sun would be and did a fast tonal charcoal sketch. 20170729_124848

So I worked at the painting again. By now I am only referring to my sketches and not the photograph. The lighter sky looks better. I added some darker tones to both mountains. I am happier with it now although I feel perhaps I have not quite fallen in to the loose, bold style of painting that I envisaged, however it is not precise. It is certainly not a copy of the photograph.  I exaggerated the rise of the castle and increased the view of the houses. The mountains are more exaggerated. I felt this made for a better, more exciting picture. By the way, the red on the castle is the girl being kissed by the Moorish wall…and a nod to the Turner.

When the snow came

Retrospective-reflection:  Although I liked the idea of the unusual picture with the snow, maybe I should have chosen something a bit more dramatic. I still think the mountains look a little flat and I could have painted these better. Looking at this next to the photograph however, I do like the way I have exaggerated the rise of the mountains and the town below and I think I painted the foreground rocks to good effect.


Author: Wendy Kate

Happily sharing my life in Spain with a tall bearded man from Dorset.

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