Try Your Hand at... Sledging!

Watercolour winter slope with figures

Allow Trevor Waugh to entice you to include figures in your watercolours with this fun-filled winter scene

Winter is nearly here again, but this shouldn't mean that there is a lack of inspiration about. On the contrary, this season gives us all a chance to use those marvellous grey tones that so many painters rave about. They are subtle and forgiving in a painting, requiring sensitive colour handling. Winter is also a great time to explore that ‘limited palette’. All the beautiful rich and varied tones that we see around us can be accessed by the use of just a few colours.

Atmospheric conditions are probably at their maximum during winter months; mist, snow and frost. Colours are subdued through these elements, which is exciting stuff for lovers of watercolour, enabling us to use plenty of wet-into-wet and dry-brush routines to create textures and softness of form.

Painting People in the Snow

Snow scenes make an exciting backdrop for painting people in watercolour. Mostly this means that your figures can be rendered dark on a lighter background, making the whole task a lot easier. The practice of figurative silhouettes is essential! Little studies of individuals that make up a scene should be done on separate pieces of paper, just ‘limbering up’, so to speak.

Putting in figures does liven up a painting and gives a more personal interpretation. However things can take a drastic turn if scale and proportion go wrong, so a good tip is to keep an eye on the first figure you put in. Match the scale of each successive figure to the first one ...and NO balloon heads PLEASE!

1 First create a backdrop for your figures.
Mix up the following washes:

  • Pale Raw Sienna
  • Pale Cobalt Violet
  • Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for a warmish dark grey
  • Cerulean Blue and Burnt Sienna for a much colder grey

Start by laying in the pale Raw Sienna over the top third of the paper, then add patches of Cobalt Violet into this, wet-into-wet. Let the colours merge naturally. Now add the darker, colder grey to form soft background trees.


2 Whilst stage 1 is still damp, add in the middle distant trees using the darker, warmer grey mix. Make sure you restrict the flow of liquid from the brush at this stage otherwise your trees will become too indistinct. You can achieve this by using more pigment in the brush and less water.

Add in some dry brush features at this stage. When this stage is still damp use the back of your fingernail to scrape some lighter marks onto the paper. Let the painting dry completely.


3 Put in the foreground using two loose washes; one of pale Raw Sienna and one of Cobalt Violet, making sure you establish the slope of the land in a gentle curve. Whilst this is still damp, use a stiffer mix of dark warm grey and add in the curved wall and foreground texture using dry-brush marks to accentuate the curve.

Now add the cooler grey mix for the shadow tones under the wall and on the slope. Let this dry.


4 Now for the figures! The first figure is the boy on the sledge. Establish the size of the head first, using a mix of Raw Sienna and Vermillion. Then put in the hairline with a mix of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine.

The body and legs can be laid in with a single wash of concentrated Cerulean Blue, then, whilst this is still wet, use a stronger mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for the shadow areas on the clothing. Now put in the sledge with this same mix.

Add in cast shadows on the snow with the colder grey mix. The two smaller figures in the background can be simply done as silhouettes using the same washes (see detail).


5 The rest of the figures were done in the same way as stage 4. Vary the colours of clothing from figure to figure...

I've used concentrated Vermillion on some and then dropped in my darker, warmer grey mix to create soft folds in the forms. Lastly add in some foreground shadows by glazing a mix of Cobalt Violet and Ultramarine over the first wash.

Whilst it's wet drop some dark warm grey into it and allow it to merge. Finally, sit back and admire your work.


To find out more and to enjoy more of his paintings visit Trevor’s DVD ‘Winning with Watercolour’ and his books ‘30 Minute Flowers in Watercolour’ and his latest book ‘30 Minute People in Watercolour’, are available from the SAA Home Shop at




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