How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

In today’s post, I want to show you how to draw snow on dark grey Pastelmat. But rather than just draw snow, I chose a subject that’s close to my heart. Trees!

We had a light snow in February so it was natural to get outside and take pictures. As usually happens, the contrast between bright, sunlit snow and dark branches caught my eye. I’ve taken so many pictures of these particular trees in every season that they’ve almost become a trademark. In fact, the group of branches in this tutorial have also appeared in other tutorials, though from different angles! I’ve even used different mediums.

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

My Subject

This is my subject. As you’ll see below, I chose to focus on the larger branches, with a few of the middle-sized branches to add interest. I may add a few smaller branches later if the composition needs them.

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

About My Tools

I wanted to be able to focus on the darkest darks and the lightest light values, so I chose a dark gray paper. Since I also wanted to draw on Pastelmat, the color I chose was Anthracite.

I used Prismacolor grays for this study, but I used old grays. The color names are Warm Grey Very Light, Cold Grey Light, and Cold Grey Medium. Prismacolor has since changed the way they label the gray colors, so unless you have a very old set, you won’t have the same color names I used. That’s okay. Select a light gray, a medium gray, and a dark gray.

I also used Black and White.

Step 1

I lightly sketched in the largest shapes with a light gray pencil. As you can see, my outline is pretty basic. My goal was establishing the limbs in relationship to one another and working out the composition. The resulting drawing is close to the way the actual tree looks, but a close comparison with the reference photo above shows that I didn’t make my drawing 100% accurate. That’s one of the things I like about drawing trees and landscapes. All I need to capture is the character; not every detail!

I also outlined some of the shadows with Black, but didn’t fill them in. I just wanted to start working out the form of the limbs as soon as possible.

Step 2

Next, I drew the basic snow shapes with the same light gray pencil I used for Step 1. I drew with the side of the pencil and firm pressure. Pastelmat can take a lot of color, so starting with the light pressure I usually begin with on most other papers doesn’t make much impact.

I held the pencil nearly horizontal and just sort of “pushed the color onto the paper” with directional strokes.

After that, I used a medium gray to start blocking in the shadows. This gray turned out to be nearly the same color as the paper, but that is to my advantage. I don’t want the shadows to get too dark too quickly.

Step 3

In this step, I worked on the shadows first, then the highlights.

I darkened the main shadows with Black, applied with moderately heavy pressure and using the side of the pencil. To get the most coverage and to keep the strokes from getting too fussy, I held the pencil nearly horizontal and “pushed” Black into the paper. But I still stroked along the length of each branch. This allowed me to mimic the look of bark without getting caught up in drawing every individual ridge or crease.

Most of these shadows were drawn with only one or two layers, but I added more layers in the areas where the shadows were darker and/or where there was less detail within the shadow.

Then I used the tip of the pencil to add a few details in some areas. Again, I didn’t try to get every detail in exactly the same place as the reference photo.

I also added a form shadow with medium gray in the branch that stretches into the background in the upper left portion of the composition.

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

Next, I added bright patches of snow with Prismacolor White. I held the pencil and used it in much the same way, pushing color into the tooth of the paper with medium-heavy pressure. I went over some of the brightest areas more than once.

In the lower, left corner, where there is a large patch of snow, I used long strokes and drew around the contour of the trunk and branch. That snow is very smooth, with no bark showing through, and I wanted as smooth a layer of white as possible. This curving stroke worked very well, even with medium pressure instead of medium-heavy.

Step 4

Now I began developing the drawing section by section, beginning with some of the smaller or more isolated branches. I used all the colors (White, three grays ranging from very light to dark, and Black) to begin making each branch look like a branch.

For the most part, I used medium-heavy to heavy pressure, and directional strokes. I focused on patterns rather than details in making the bark look like bark.

I also made some changes in the initial drawing to make some parts a little more clear. For example, in the area where three branches join the main branch close together, I had to be careful to make sure they looked right, even though that meant changing the drawing a little bit. I will continue to make these kinds of adjustments as I work through the rest of the drawing.

Step 5

The next step is adding the little details that make these shapes look more like massive tree branches. I used all the colors, but focused mostly on the very bright highlights and the very dark shadows.

I continued working from the reference photo, but I also did quite a bit of work without checking the reference photo. There were some areas that needed to be defined a little more clearly.

One thing I want to point out right here is that you can already get the feel of space just because the background branches don’t have the bright highlights or dark shadows of the foreground branches. For a composition like this, where there really isn’t a lot of distance between the foreground and background, that’s important.

Will I leave the background branches that way? I don’t know. I do like the way they recede into the distance, but I want to finish the foreground branches first. Then I’ll make that decision.

Something else I want to bring to your attention is that even the foreground branches “fade out” around the edges of the composition. That’s deliberate. Drawing sharp detail right to the edge of the drawing would lead your eye out of the composition. That’s very rarely a good idea. So I’ll finish the main branches out far enough to balance the centers of interest on the left side, but not all the way to the edge.

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

Step 6

The final step was simply taking a look at the drawing and deciding what else needed to be done.

On one hand, I liked the drawing the way it was at the end of Step 5 (see the illustration above.) My style is realistic, but neither photo realistic nor hyper-realistic. They look like branches, but there’s no mistaking the image for a photo.

On the other hand, there were still some branches that were little more than outlines. Did I want to add more depth to them or leave them as they were?

I displayed the drawing in a place where I could see it throughout the rest of the day, but still didn’t really make up my mind until I looked at it the next day.

In the end, I didn’t do very much beyond darkening some of the shadows with black and brightening some of the patches of snow with White. I used blunt pencils and medium-heavy or heavier pressure for this work.

Then I sharpened some of the pencils (for the first time in this drawing) and added a few smaller branches and the drawing was done.

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

How to Draw Snow on Dark Grey Pastelmat

I like this method of drawing because it requires only a few pencils but it allows me to draw as much or as little detail as I want.

It’s also a good way to use up colors that I don’t ordinarily use very often. Grays are not among my favorite colors, so I have quite a collection of them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the grays I used are old, and probably date back to my first set of Prismacolor pencils way back in the 80s or 90s!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and, if you have colored paper lying about, you give it a try! I used Pastelmat, but you could also use Canson Mi-Teintes or any other gray drawing paper.

Whatever you do, have fun!

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4 Comments

    1. Karen,

      Thank you for your very kind words!

      I have some drawings I did as a child and you’d be amazed. I know I am. But I’ve been making art for decades and needed every bit of that time to reach my current skill level. If you keep drawing and learning, you will see improvement in your work, too. Just don’t give up!

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