Jay Peak

If I had a view of Jay Peak out of my dining room window I would paint it every day. I don’t but I am lucky enough to have friends who do. It’s a spectacular view that changes so often during the day and throughout the seasons.

I painted today’s early morning light on the mountains on a two-page spread in my 8″ x 5″ Moleskine watercolour book. As you can see from the photo below it was a fairly monochromatic scene although the sun did come out as I was finishing the sketch and that gave me some nice shadows for the snow. I took a photo of the scene through the window so that I could write a bit about how I composed my sketch.


If you look at the scene it seems like one big mass of foliage with very little light in it except for the birch trees on the left. To give it variety I chose to emphasize some of the more prominent evergreens, especially the tallest grouping near the centre. I like the way they break up the sky and give scale to the rest of the trees. I also simplified a lot of the trees as you move back in the scene. It would be impossible to paint every tree so I painted a smaller one on the right and a shorter grouping on the left. The white of the birch added some nice interest in the dark area on the left and some of those smaller branches were done with my rigger brush and a bit of white gouache at the end. I also varied the height of the peaks in the background and used  a little yellow on the hills when a ray of sun briefly broke through the clouds. The shadows in the snow gave me a chance to repeat the curves of the undulating peaks in the background and provided contrast to the solid stripe of verticals that runs from left to right.




23 Comments on “Jay Peak”

  1. Martha says:

    Re the moleskine. I have tried watercolour on it, but it is like working on wax paper. The colours separate and I must return several times over it. What is my problem.

    • I have two types of Moleskine Martha. This was done on the horizontal one that is called Watercolour Notebook. You are working on the vertical Moleskine Sketchbook with does have a type of water resistant surface. I do work on that one as well but it is not good for large washes. That one is better for drawing or if you want to paint do it in small areas at a time. I usually do a light wash to remove the resist and then paint over it again when dry.

  2. Mrs. P says:

    I love your interpretation of the view.

  3. Jane Hannah says:

    Oooh Shari! Thank you so much for this. Yesterday morning I “tried” painting a similar view to no avail… I put in too many trees, too much colour and too much of everything and the painting turned out murky and dark. This is helping me alot — so I will practice with your advice in mind… thank you!

  4. This example of the photograh and the painting shows exactly why the world needs art and artists!

  5. captelaine says:

    Your painting is SO MUCH better that the photograph.. I agree whole heartedly with Sue Ann… this is why the world needs artists… Beautiful painting of a very dull subject.

  6. Chris Ruiz-Velasco says:


    Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his essay Nature, “And as the eye is the best composer, so light is the first of painters. There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful.” That’s what you’ve done here. You’ve thrown intense light on a scene to make it beautiful.

  7. artmoscow says:

    Very good rhythm and the snow-shadow solution is great. Really. I am a big fan of rhythm and it is very nice in this sketch!

    PS The contrasting shadow makes the peak a bit artificial, for this kind of clarity can hardly be expected at this distance, and the concavity of the mountain shoulder is a bit against the natural laws of mountain formation. Is the side of the mountain really like that?

    • Thanks for commenting. In fact, when the sun came out the mountains were darker on one side. And no, I guess the side of the mountain was not really like that but for that matter nothing was really like that. That is why I posted the photo. It was an exercise in selection and simplification of a complex scene.

      • artmoscow says:

        It is ok, I’ve read the post, not just viewed the sketch ) I just happen to notice small things that may distort [my] view in an otherwise perfect setting )

  8. Cathy Dempsey says:

    Thank you for taking the time to show us how you translated a photo into a watercolor that gives more of a sense of what you saw and felt than a camera ever could. A great lesson in interpretation.
    thank you

    • Thanks Cathy. I’m not sure if I explained it well enough. I didn’t sketch it from the photo. I drew on location and also took a photo so I could illustrate what I was doing. Sometimes I work from photo references but I did this one right there.

  9. Wayne Bissky says:

    Another really wonderful piece Shari especially as a powerful demonstration of the value of the artist. Would you share more photos alongside your final works again sometime?

  10. Ross C says:

    Nice panorama… well weighted between those trees in the foreground and the mountains.
    And so interesting to see the photo and read your detailed explanation. The artistic technique that I see here is… do a good job with the painting and then take an ordinary photo (probably with your phone), make the photo look even more drab in Photoshop so that it really contrasts with your painting… then write a description of your clever artistic process and wait for all of the accolades, “likes” and glowing comments… am I right? : )

    • That was exactly the process!! How did you know?
      Actually this was with my camera, not my phone, but I shot it through a window so there was a reflection, and also there was some smoke from the wood stove which made it even more flat. I should have taken another picture when the sun came out.

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