Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter White Landscape Paintings

I love winter themed art projects, especially landscape ones. 
There's nothing quite like a landscape covered in freshly fallen snow.
This Grade 7 project uses tempera paint and charcoal. It's a great lesson for teaching and/or reviewing parts of a landscape: background, foreground and middle ground,
as well as colour theory and colour mixing.
I talk to the students about "tints" (any colour plus white; also known as a pastel) and we talk about all the different 'colours' of white we can see in the winter. If there's snow where you are it's great to go outside and actually observe the 'colour' of snow. If not, (or if it's too cold), it's good to show a slideshow of inter photos. In terms of snow, it isn't simply one colour of basic white: it has many variations, depending on the light and time of day.

Image Source

We use cool tempera colours for the white tints: blues and purples plus white.
Update: for those interested, we used "Pro Art Liquid Tempera Paint"- it's a high quality, opaque tempera- I love it. Also used some Sargent's as well.

We spent half a class in the computer lab searching for winter landscape photos. If the kids have their own digital cameras or the school has them available for students to use, and there's snow where you live, it would be great if the kids could take their own original photos and
print those out for this project.

As it were, we used the computer lab. We used Google Images, selecting only large size images (under Search Tools), for best quality when printing. They had to look for landscapes that included a background, middle and foreground. Print these off full size in black and white. They drew simplified versions of these photos onto heavy white paper. Students could add or subtract from their photo reference as needed- the photo was more of a rough guideline to help them get started.

Once the drawing was finished and looked good, it was time for painting. Students chose blues or purples and mixed it with loads of white for a variety of pale tints. At this stage, the kids didn't need to worry about small details (fences, trees, etc). They just needed to get down the main areas of colour. Essentially just paint the snowy areas, sky and any cast shadows.The finer or smaller details would be added later with charcoal pencils. 

Let the painting dry for the next class.

The next class, the kids used charcoal pencils (we used the brand "General's Charcoal Pencils in 2B) to add the details and soft outlines to their paintings. Blend out the charcoal with your finger to make it nice and soft and blended. Charcoal works brilliantly on top of tempera paint- it has just the right amount of matte 'grip' needed to hold the charcoal. The contrast between the rich black charcoal and pale tints is quite striking.

Some chose to touch up their painting at this stage as well.

Grade 7 artwork- ta da!


  1. Beautiful! Thanks for the step by step instructions. I love the use of charcoal on top of the tempera.

  2. These are lovely! Is the vey first piece a student piece or a teachers ample? It is spectacular!

  3. Thanks everyone!

    Phyl- yes, the first one is a student's work (Grade 7). I almost fell over when I saw it nearing completion! I agree it's so well done!

  4. Me again - did you spray them when they were complete? I'd hate to see that charcoal get smudged; they are so wonderful. Pinning!!

  5. Phyl: the charcoal doesn't smudge that much, actually. I think it's because we used really dense charcoal pencils (2B) as opposed to plain compressed charcoal (really smudgy). Once the charcoal pencil is blended into the tempera background, it stays put quite well.

    If you use compressed charcoal, though, it might need a spray fixative. I've never found a brand that really works well, though. And I've tried alot, even the cheap hairspray method (I found it can leave tiny 'spots'). If you know of a good brand, please mention it in the comments!

  6. These are really, really good! I love the way you have got students to concentrate on the colours first and then the
    detail...brilliant! The drawings are all very good but I simply love the colour washes and whole effect. I live in France, so I don't knw the ages of your school grading system, but these wuld be fun for any age!

  7. Beautiful work! We certainly have enough snow here to take advantage of observing it! The addition of the charcoal really makes the trees and details pop...I'm inspired in the middle of this dreary New England winter. Thanks for posting!

  8. Love these! I think I'll try them today...I remember painting with temperas in Middle School and I enjoyed it, but the results were never like this. I would never have thought to add the charcoal elements. Great!
    Thank you so much for posting. Mrs. P

  9. Anne: merci beaucoup! In France, the school level equivalent would be, je pense, Collège (cinquième)- ages 12-13 years old. I agree that this lesson could work for many ages!

    one little deer: thanks for your comment!

    Mrs. P- thanks! For this project, we used quite a high quality brand of liquid tempera paint- it makes quite a difference in terms of opacity.

  10. Beautiful! The charcoal looks great against the cool tints. Your students did a great job.

  11. Thee are wonderful! May do this with my Art 1 Students! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks for your comments Rina, Chesterbrook and Melissa :)

  13. Hi there! One of my private art students (a 3rd grader) just completed her version of this lesson and I posted it online at:

    Thank you so much for posting this project. I have also made a couple as "tests" and this technique is super-fun and the results are great. Mrs. P

  14. Simple but very stunning. Their works are great. I love landscaping and seeing those paintings can give me inspiration with my work.

    monument landscape

  15. Mrs.P: Your student's work is fantastic! I'm glad you enjoy this project/technique!

    ketz: thanks!

  16. I love these. Thank your for the step by step instructions for teaching to your students. I'd love to try something like this with my 5th grade students.