If you live somewhere with all four seasons, observe and compare the summer and winter skies. The clouds are higher off the ground, fluffier, and further apart in the summer. Winter clouds usually look like one big sheet closer to the ground.

Because winter clouds are like this, its sunsets will have brighter colours concentrated in one part of the sky more than summer sunsets. That being said, you can capture its beauty using just a few colours.

For this painting, I’m using acrylic gouache, the kind that stays dry once it’s dry. I find it pleasant to work with. If you don’t have that type, you can use regular gouache or acrylic paint. The only colours I’m using are primaries and black and white.

Furthermore, I’m using toned paper, but it doesn’t matter since the paint is opaque anyway. Now, let’s begin!

Step 1: Sketching and Adding the Furthest-Back Color

Even though this painting isn’t going to have overly contrasting values in the building, clouds, and ground, I shaded my sketch a bit to give myself a picture
 of what’s going on in the space.

Read here to learn more about values and contrast. You can skip this step if you don’t need to do this.

Next, add the sunset with a line of yellow and magenta mixed with white. It should be a peachy colour.

It will look like the wrong colour for a sunset, but it will be fitting in contrast with the rest of the painting, so trust the process.

Step 2: The Main Base Color

Now, mix all three primary colours but use a touch bluer than the rest. The result should be a lovely greyish blue. The ground and the clouds will be the same colour in this painting because winter is typically monochromatic.

Step 3: Defining the Foreground

This painting is relatively simple, but it still has a foreground and background. Add a bit of white to your blue mixture and further define the foreground.

The mountains in the back will add depth to the piece and give it a more natural look. Remember that in monochromatic paintings, the values define the composition more than anything else.

Step 4: Outline the Subject

I was trying so hard to get the clouds and ground one consistent colour that I buried the building I was painting! If this also happened to you, take some dark blue and just block in the shape again.

It’s probably a good idea to do this even if you didn’t paint over it as much as I did.

Step 5: Texture

Add a bit more white to the blue mixture and start gently adding it to the foreground of the clouds and ground. You want them to mirror each other, having the same values in the same places, because the clouds and the snow reflect off each other during the winter.

The closer to you the area is, the lighter it should be. I like to use a dry brush to get the optimal texture.

Step 6: Adding Visual Interest

Use a slightly lighter blue than what you used for the building and make the front lighter than the side. If there’s too much contrast, the low light effect won’t be as strong, so don’t add so much contrast that it looks like there’s another light source besides the sunset.

Another thing that I did here was add a few bits of foliage sticking out of the snow. It really makes a difference to have that bit of texture in the foreground.

Step 7: Tie it All Together

This is the point where you look at your image as a whole, maybe after a few hours of doing something else and not looking at it.

Add any details you think it needs,
 fix any errors you see while looking at the whole thing, and then be happy because you just made a lovely painting! I added some windows and a bit more detail to the building in my painting to make it more of a focal point.

Remember whenever you make compositions that the viewer’s eye will be drawn to the part of the composition that has the most detail and contrast from the rest of the picture.

I made some minimal edits to the foliage details, but I didn’t want to mess with them too much and muddy the painting. Suppose you used traditional style gouache for this piece.

In that case, it will be much harder to add those fine details on top of the already layered snow area and harder still to edit them if you want them to look slightly different, but it is possible if you’re careful. I like the flexibility of acrylic gouache, and if you decide to try it, you will be happy you did.

I hope this was a helpful tutorial! Show us your paintings on social media, and subscribe to our email newsletter for more lessons like this! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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