Painting Snowdrops

One of the delightful sights of the cold January days is delicate white blooms of snowdrops drifting across verges and through churchyards.   No wonder we have the urge to pick up our paintbrushes when we see them. The fragility of these pristine white blossoms seems to be so well suited to watercolour.

In this tutorial, I am not attempting to show you how to create the perfect snowdrop watercolour. I hope, instead, to share some tips on using two different methods of resist to retain the white of the paper, and at the same time, get splashy and creative with your paint.

In both paintings I used the same colours – four transparent: one warm and three cool. Not a green amongst them.  (Can you tell which is my favourite?)

Masking Fluid Method

Saunders Waterford is one of my favourite papers. Its robust enough to take a pretty wet wash which is important for me as I do a lot of wet-in-wet painting.I chose High White for this little demonstration – appropriate for the crisp colour of the flowers.

My rough sketch was done in watercolour pencil.  The beauty of this is that the lines almost disappear completely once you start painting and so absolute precision isn’t a necessity. Also, I chose a bright green to work in, which would blend into the image in the bits that might still be visible.

Apply masking fluid to the flowers and leaves so you can paint with abandon when you’re getting the background done. There is nothing worse than thinking you’ll remember to be careful around the areas you want to preserve as white – and then having an ‘Oops’ moment as you realise you’ve just obliterated a snowdrop. Also, my masking fluid was somewhat elderly which made things a bit challenging. [Tip: don’t do this. Lumpy masking fluid is just horrible to work with].

I used a combination of Indigo and Sepia to make some nice dark variations in the background. At the end I added some splatters of Quinacridone Gold to bring in some warmth and a bit of light. Add a sprinkling of rock salt to provide some background texture. I used large crystals to give the impression of blossoms dotted in the distance. If you prefer a more ‘starlight’ effect, smaller salt crystals would work better.

Make sure you let all of this dry really well. I left mine overnight. But don’t leave it so long that the masking fluid binds to the paper and damages the surface when you remove it.

Using Quin Gold and Pthalo Turquoise to create a fresh green for leaf and bloom details. I deliberately left some white highlights in the leaf areas. A dilute mixture of Sepia and Indigo gave me a faint blue/grey for the shadows on the petals.
Put in the darker leaves using a mix of Quin Gold and Indigo. And then its a matter of final touches – a bit of softening of the foreground snowdrop to make the trio stand out more. The final step is to highlights details on the main flowers.

Oil Pastel Resist Method

This was done from a reference photograph I took in the churchyard of our village, with a tree and a treestump in the background. The approach to this is to focus on the drifts of snowdrops across the grass rather than details of individual blossoms.
Use white oil pastel to block out the areas where you want to preserve whites. I used a textured paper and a rough stroke to leave some areas for colour to show through. Paint the first wash, laying in light tones of colour at low intensity.

Start bringing in darker tones in your second wash.

Increase contrast in the area of interest, with some wonderful juicy dark tones and a bit of splattered Pthalo Turquoise (go light on the splatter at this point).

The background detail is now in but needs to be pushed back to ensure it doesn’t pull the eye too much. The visual journey in this painting is up the diagonal, across the border in front of the trees, and then down to the detail again. The tall grass blades on the left hand side provide a pathway back down to the beginning. I felt there needed to be something more to guide the viewer on this part of the journey.  I also didn’t like one errant line of oil pastel.

To resolve this, I added some splatterings of white gouache: A fairly dense sprinkling just above the mid ground clump of flowers, and another less dense just next to the dark patch of grass above the left hand blades of grass. As you can see in the final painting at the top of this tutorial, these two areas of light in the painting linked the top and the bottom of the image better.

If you decide to have a go at painting your own version of snowdrops, take part in our first 2019 challenge.