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Can you hear the call of the wild?

Now we are in November, winter has most definitely arrived. There's a lovely crisp, chill in the air, the leaves have finally begun to turn (if rather late) and if you're lucky enough to dodge the downpours, there is still a glimpse of cool winter sunshine to behold!

howling wolf in the snow

So, if you weren't feeling chilly enough, I thought, 'what could be more fitting than painting this beautiful image of a wintry wolf?' This lovely photo reference is going to give us lots of opportunities to think about colour and texture as we capture his beautiful soft, deep, fur. Although this photograph already has a wintry feel ~ it's not enough! So we will also add an even cooler atmosphere by altering the background to describe an icier scene.

watercolor painting of a howling wolf in winter woodland

In this painting I have started with the background - but as ever, you could decide to leave it until the end, when you can make decisions about colour and composition.

However, putting the background in first can help to determine the mood and colour palette and keep you on track.

watercolor painting of a howling wolf with a snowy background

In these two versions you can see how changing the colours slightly can create a different atmosphere. Stronger, richer colour gives more warmth to the wolf (right) and compliments the stronger blue in the background. While the paler colours and pale background creates a more muted effect (above). This enhances the atmosphere as it recreates the effect of the ear-ringing silence you get after a heavy snowfall.

To start, we will work into the background, dropping colour onto wet and lifting out several tree trunks with a damp brush. The icy mood will be enhanced by sprinkling salt into the wet background. Notice that the salt has created two different effects on each of the paintings despite the same technique being used. Salt will react differently every time you apply it ~ which is what makes it magical ~ the result is always a surprise!

In this painting I have used two different reference photographs (both are included in the accompanying materials) and used the colours of a different wolf onto the shape of the original wolf ~ but feel free to work more like the original colours if desired! Whichever colour palette you decide to use, you will work in the same way to build up the soft, fluffy feeling of his gorgeous winter coat. This will be achieved by adding colour onto dry and then agitating it with a wet brush and a sprinkle of salt.

Although we have used salt in other paintings (usually skies & backgrounds), this is the first tutorial where you can see how this technique can be adapted to represent other textures. As the salt dries and absorbs the liquid, it will disrupt the paint leaving fluffy edges!

If you would like to find out a little bit more about this tutorial, take a look at the short video below.

I hope you enjoy this one - If you're quick off the mark you could even adapt it just in time to use a Christmas card!

And before you go ~ just a quick note about salt... be aware that it can be a fickle friend (or perhaps just a fiend!). It will create different effects with different levels of wetness on the surface. It won’t work at all if your paint has dried - so remember to paint and sprinkle little by little!

It will also react differently depending on your actual pigment and it will look different on a paler colour than a darker colour! If you’ve never tried salt before it’s with practicing on a spare piece of paper to see what different effects you can create. Tilt your paper as the paint dries and create even more effects! The bottom line is - embrace what happens - and whatever happens it will be totally unique!

Happy painting & sprinkling!

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