S'no time to stay inside!

Snow! Winter! Sledding! Shoveling! Sliding through intersections...and all the other adventures of winter, oh my!

For eons artists have accepted the challenge of creating art out of snowy scenes. It is difficult of course, because typically the artist is out in the weather attempting to capture its mood and effects.

Let me take you through a smorgasbord of snow scenes...

This is one of my favorites: A wood engraving by Winslow Homer titled "A Winter Morning - Shoveling Out." First, I wonder what the woman in the center of the drawing is doing.

Lithograph by Winslow Homer, about 1870. Men shoveling snow in a path in front of house. The snow drifts are as high as mid-chest on the men.
Drawing by Winslow Homer in the collection of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

Then, I wonder: Where was Homer positioned for this scene? Had he snowshoed out in front of the shovelers and perched himself on top of the snow? What was his point of view?

Many of us can identify with a time after a major snowfall when it is quiet and reasonably warm, when shoveling can be exhilarating and honestly kind of fun. As much as some of us complain about the snow, it has its beauty, too. Ok...I can hear the groans; we'll move on.

​My second image is a photograph of an ascent of Mont Blanc in 1861, by Auguste-Rosalie Bisson.

A black and white vertical photograph of Sherpas carrying equipment to the summit of Mont Blanc. The photographer, Auguste-Rosalie Bisson, is commemorating the ascent of the 25+ men who carried his gear so he could document this climb. 1861.
"The Ascent of Mont Blanc," 1861. Auguste-Rosalie Bisson, French photographer.
Photo in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
A great blog post on the history of photography, including the demise of Kodachrome film is:
"Nostalgia Old School: When Film was the Medium"​

At this time, photographers used large cameras on tripods with massive accordion-style bellows. And they used glass plates for negatives. To put this scene on a timeline for context, this was the first year of the Civil War in the US. Mathew Brady was also documenting his world on glass plates with large format cameras.

This image of Mont Blanc held at the Metropolitan is 16" x 10". I don't know the size of the glass plate Bisson used, but it probably would have been at least 10" x 8", or it may have been the size for a full-size contact print (16" x 10").

Bisson was accompanied "by an experienced guide and twenty-five porters carrying his plates, cameras, chemicals, and portable darkroom equipment. Notwithstanding the paralyzing cold, a blinding snowstorm, avalanches, and the expected nausea and vertigo of high altitude exploration, the team reached the 15,781-foot summit on July 25, 1861. Bisson exposed three glass plate negatives."
From the object description online at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

Just so we are all on the same page here:
the Sherpas had to carry up and down a mountain, in addition to the climbing gear, a "portable" darkroom, food and shelter for about 30-people, plus at least 4 large pieces of glass.

It was after Bisson shot the scenes at the summit, that he re-created the scene of the ascent. He again set up the tent, portable darkroom, and camera, and posed the figures in a way suggestive of the ascent. Then he shot this image.

Do you think all the Sherpas would have been incredulous at this point when asked to re-create the ascent for the photographer? Maybe thinking "crazy Europeans....."

My third snow example features two images of snowballs. These are massive snowballs. The first one is a trading card declaring a "Happy New Year."

What you think is going on? I don't know whether to laugh or call the authorities. Anyway, have a good year! LOL.

A drawing from 1890 of a young man (maybe 12 years old) pushing a snowball that is as tall as he is. Attached and flattened on the front of the snowball is a friend, probably about the same age. It looks as though the snow ball is about to crush the kid in front as it rolls down the hill. The drawing has text that reads, “Happy New Year.”
"Happy New Year," from the New Years 1890 Series issued by Kinney Brothers Tobacco Company. This was a trading card from their series of 50 cards issued 1889-90. From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, NYC.

The second one is from a Japanese woodblock print. Although this seems like a much more cooperative group, it does concern me about the attire. My goodness.

A group of two Japanese women and one Japanese man dressed in traditional attire, and making an approximately 3’ tall large snowball. The snow appears quite deep. The group is barefoot and apparently wearing only a light layer of clothing consisting of short traditional belted robes.
"The Snow Ball," 1770. Suzuki Harunobu, Japanese artist.
Woodblock print approximately 11" x 8.5".
From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

These images remind us that, for an artist to capture a winter scene, you often need to stand knee deep in the snow. This was the title of a blog post of mine in which I interviewed multimedia artist and plein air painter, Stephen Quiller, about his experience being outside in the elements to create his paintings. Several of his paintings are featured in my blog post, including this one below.

A painting by Stephen Quiller of bright orange colors of sunset peeking through trees on a snowy hillside in Colorado, 2016.
​Flickering Late Light along the Ridge Trail, © Stephen Quiller 2016.
Used with permission.

In the interview, Quiller said that one of the most valuable elements of painting outside in the open air is that you “start to see things differently”. As an artist, an environmentalist, and student of nature, Quiller is committed to sharing the fragile majesty, and the breathtaking color of the great outdoors.

I frequently venture outside in crazy weather to paint. It's so tempting to try to catch those fleeting changes in the light or the wind. I know that experience of standing knee deep in a snow drift being captivated by the light.

Since I paint with watercolor, I sometimes have to keep chipping the ice in my palette, paint and water to continue painting. When it freezes solid--it's time to go home!

A couple of weeks ago I was sketching and painting in the snow at one of my favorite nearby open spaces. Very quietly I was soon surrounded by a large group of deer. Maybe 11 or so in total.

A photo by Jane M. Mason of the deer visiting her while she sketched and painted on a snowy afternoon in Niles, IL. (c) 2022.
A photo by Jane M. Mason of the deer visiting her while she sketched and painted on a snowy afternoon in Niles, IL © 2022.

It was quite thrilling for me. I sketched and painted and finally had to leave because the sun had set. I completed this piece in my studio after warming up my fingers and paint. (Maybe a cup of coffee, too?)

A watercolor painting by Jane M. Mason of a deer walking through high grass in the snow. There is a large field of snow behind the deer, and a dramatic sky of gray, purple and blue.
Deer Walking By, Niles, IL. This original is no longer available.
Contact me if you are interested in a print or paintings with this subject matter.

A watercolor painting of a tangled pile of fallen tree limbs with colorful shadows and a bright blue sky. Cook County Forest Preserve, Chicago, IL.
Another favorite winter painting of mine, "Winter Tangle," Cook County Forest Preserve.
This original is no longer available. 
Contact me if you are interested in a print or paintings with this subject matter.

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