Snow falling on bamboo

One of the most stunning ways to present bamboo in a painting has got to be with a generous dusting of snow on the foliage. As with all things bamboo-related, depicting such a vignette is no easy feat. I’ve played with this subject material many a time with not much satisfaction. Given my recent successes with bamboo clusters, I thought I’d give snow another chance.

There would appear to be at least three ways in which one can convey the presence of snow on bamboo leaves, branches and stalks. The oldest and most traditional manner is to simply ‘paint around’ imagined white lumps, depicting parts of leaves/branches that stick out of the snow. This method can also be improved with shading some of the snowy lumps with pale indigo or ink.

A second method involves ‘painting’ in the snow over top of a bamboo composition, using some form of white paint. Instruction manuals usually suggest ‘white tempura’ but there are a number of excellent white paints to have in your art bag. I use a brand called Doc. Martin, which is also useful for painting white highlights in eyes.  A small jar can last you a long time!  (You do have to take care not to sully it with ink.)

A third general approach is to compose your bamboo around areas portrayed as snow that are ‘masked out’ with a substance such as a manufactured masking agent, glue, or even milk. One could also ‘shield’ an area with paper and paint over top.


I have numerous books on bamboo painting but most do not go beyond a basic introduction. Two that do address ways to depict snow on bamboo are:

  1. Leslie Tseng-tseng Yu in Chinese Painting in Four Seasons
  2. Johnson Su-sing Chow in Vol. 2 Book of the Bamboo from his four-volume set on the Four Gentlemen

I have also collected examples of snowy bamboo from other books addressing such things as pandas and monkeys.  And then there’s a wonderful video by Nan Rae on Youtube that shows how to render snowy bamboo in front of a moon. See this link.

My Studies:

I first tried using white paint over inky bamboo. I did prepare a medium wash of white paint,  thinking snow should appear lighter in some areas, but quickly found it disappeared.



Yu’s illustration seems to have a slightly grey background which was probably washed on from the back of the painting.

I have used milk as a masking agent in the past with great success. This procedure takes some preplanning as the ink goes OVER the area covered with milk (and allowed to air dry or facilitated with a hair dryer). As the milk can be hard to SEE on white paper, this process requires some trust and imagination. But the benefits can be surprises that work better than you intended.


the milkfirst

Milk on white paper is not easy to SEE! here it is still damp.

Johnson Su-sing Chow’s guidance for depicting snow by leaving select areas white was detailed, but his illustrations did not look too promising to me. Nevertheless, my third exercise was to try and envision how bamboo clusters would appear under snowy clumps. As expected, this exercise offered the challenge of painting PARTS of leaves.



This technique requires not only imagination to envision the ‘snow’ but also skill in portraying parts of leaves. What a challenge!

4. For the next exercise I ripped up bits of paper into rounded shapes and positioned them on my art paper. When the small papers refused to stay put I gave them a bit of spit and re-positioned them. Then I painted clusters as usual right over top of the ‘shielded’ areas. Some ink soaked right through the paper shields, but did so in a random fashion.


spit happens

Spit happened! That seemed a good way to keep the bits of paper in place while I painted my clusters OVER the leaves. I grabbed tweezers to lift the shield afterward to avoid smudges.


Reflecting on my exercises I concluded using white paint gave me more control over both the leaves and the snow mounds; the masking methods and the negative painting method (leaving snowy areas white) took more preplanning in terms of the leaf clusters and composition as a whole.  I have yet to play with the sky washes from behind to suggest white snow mounds on leaves and branches.

Here is an example of bamboo in snow done in the traditional manner of leaving white for the snow. You’ll note the background is given a wash that doesn’t touch the leaves and branches; I would want to cover the white areas under leaves and branches where snow would not have mounded for a more realistic portrayal.



Here are two examples in my files of snow-covered pine.   I find pine needles easier to imagine and position sticking out of snow than bamboo leaves. Getting a brush to cut off the bamboo leaf that is under the snow is challenging.




Perhaps several more practice sessions are in order; I hope to be able to complete more than a single bamboo leaf cluster with snow on it.


At my next art group morning I painted this snowy scene; I set out a few simple leaf clusters, all similarly hanging down as if wet and cold.


This entry was posted in Chinese Brush Painting, painting bamboo, the four gentlemen. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Snow falling on bamboo

  1. Lou Heron says:

    Omg you are such a genius

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