Original photograph – Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park


During a visit  to Glacier National Park in 2012, we hiked to Avalanche Lake. Earlier that morning I had painted at Lake McDonald (see blog post from June 2013) and I was hoping to paint at Avalanche Lake as well. The trail ascended gradually through a beautiful wooded area in “bear country”. After two hours we reached the scenic lake, nestled in the mountains (See aerial view below). It was magnificent, with mountains, glaciers, snow, fog and waterfalls reflecting in the water. A recent rain left the shore too muddy to paint. I took as many photographs as I could and lingered for a while longer, soaking the view. Heading back I vowed to paint it in the future.


Avalanche Lake, aerial view


Back home, it took me some time to assemble a collection of photographs from that trip (See the “Montana/Wyoming” photography collection above and a previous blog post from December 2012). One composition appealed to me the most for its serene feeling and a kaleidoscope like dynamics, and I chose it to base my painting on. The photograph was rather dark and needed some work. A black and white version offered more detail, as did a “stitched” panorama.


Additional Reference photographs:







I chose to paint the scene in oil on a 22×28 canvas. Looking at my reference photograph I sensed a purple gray undertone. Here are several quick studies I made, testing both purple and yellow as undertones, before starting to work on the full scale painting.


Initial studies




Please follow me as I develop this painting in the studio:



Step 1:  Initial sketch



 Step 2: Underpainting with local colors.



 Step 3

Painting the overcast sky. Depicting the shapes of glaciers and snow patches accurately as they define the form of the land.




 Step 4

I work on the texture of the mountain slopes, which includes deep vertical crevices and tight layers of horizontal rocks. I add some fog and small trees to the upper slopes. I darken the lake bottom and add color notes for underwater rocks and tree stumps.  I add color and texture to the lower slopes, tree line and reflection.




 Step 5

Adding rolling fog, snow on rock ledges, details to under water rocks and stumps. Blocking reflections of snow and glaciers. The tree masses, especially on left, are not dark enough and too “broken”. I mass it in blue green, replacing the underpainting.




Step 6

Building texture and detail in the trees. Refining the rolling fog. Intensifying colors in lower slopes to create depth of field. “Dry brushing” the colors of the slopes and trees into the water area for reflections. Glazing over the rocks and stumps to “cover” them with water.  Adding small rocks at water’s edge in foreground.




Step 7

Adjusting the shape of the mountain top on the left side of the middle waterfall. Continuing to work on the trees and water. Working on the sky and light reflections.




Step 8

Completing the trees. Retouching the lower slopes. Warming up the reflections of light. Adding small ripples at water’s edge and around the foreground rocks. Adding some short grasses. Paying attention to symmetry in snow reflections. I don’t want to create a perfectly detailed reflection all over and opt to softly “dissolve” the reflections of snow on right into mist. Looking at the reference photo I notice a rock wall behind the central waterfall, near the opposite shore, and I darken that area.



Step 9:


I review the painting. The central waterfall should be mostly hidden by trees.  Some snow reflections are off and I correct it. I soften the reflected transition from fog to trees on left.  I sign the painting. I’m ready for the final review, or as I call it “proof-viewing” (as in proof-reading).


I put the painting aside for a while, “sneak” on it from time to time, view it from different angles, bring it upstairs to the main living area, double check those tricky reflections, notice small imperfections here and there, correct minor issues that bring others to light . This goes on for a while longer, as I repeat the correct/review cycle. I’m careful to not get carried away in the process. Finally I’m done.



The finished painting:


Avalanche Lake     oil 22 x 28