Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting

It’s really strange posting this photo of my new moose painting right now. There was a heatwave this week and I am very tanned and I’m sitting inside with the AC on putting finishing touches on a painting of a moose walking through a snowy tundra. I’ve decided that I want to focus my animal painting series on Northern animals, so animals you find in the boreal forests, the marshes, the tundras, the arctic. So many flashy animals exist in the jungle, but do we ever stop to appreciate what lives in our back yards? So perhaps one of the most majestic and iconic of Canadian animals, here is a white moose. Get ready for some moose facts I learned while researching this image, since I don’t have a personal collection of moose photos. Actually, moose scare me.

Karolina Szablewska holding up moose painting

Moose Facts

  • Moose can be up to 7ft or 2m tall. They’re taller than your car and hitting a moose is very dangerous because of their height and mass. They’re just the right height to go right through your windshield and crush you.
  • Moose are great at swimming and can close their nostrils to swim underwater. They also have an excellent sense of smell.
  • The flap under their chin is called a dewlap and it is an indicator of dominance.
  • Moose shed their antlers every year and grow new ones. When the antlers grow, they’re covered in a felt of skin and blood vessels, which shed off in a process called velveting once the antlers are ready.
  • White moose are not albino moose. They just have a blonde/red hair gene, just like humans, and can happen spontaneously in any moose family.

Perhaps the most interesting article I found about white moose claims there is a particular forest in Norway/Sweden where there is a disproportionate amount of these blonde/red hair gene moose. It’s like the moose equivalent of Ireland.

Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting by Karolina Szablewska
Moose with blonde / red hair gene.

I remember hiking in Cape Breton and a trail we’re on was heavily fenced off. The signage said it was part of an experiment to reforest the area, because the local moose population eats so many tree saplings that it has transformed parts of Cape Breton into plains from boreal forests. This is a concern because the forests protect against erosion from the harsh winds, rains, and waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s what keeps parts of Cape Breton from becoming bald rock.

Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting by Karolina Szablewska
Pencil drawing of entire composition starting the project on the watercolor paper.

One day, I may do another moose painting of a “regular” moose. I thought it would be more spectacular to focus on this white moose gene; in Aboriginal cultures, white moose are seen as sacred and you do find them in Canada, even if less often than perhaps the Scandinavian countries like in the article above.

Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting by Karolina Szablewska
First washes of watercolor to establish lighting and color scheme. Will it work?

Challenges with this Painting

Because I am not used to painting snow, I did not realize just how hard it is to actually paint snow. Yes, I could have easily left whole areas white, but that goes against the impression of light and atmosphere I aim to create in every landscape. I want the painting to feel just like it does when I go walking during those odd 3:30pm winter sunsets, where the minty light hits the snow at just the right angle and causes it to glow all sorts of pastel colors.

Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting by Karolina Szablewska
Hard snow, soft soft, melting snow, wet snow. So many different textures to manage.

I would say painting snow is harder than painting metal. Metal has fairly predictable reflections and shadows, and once you figure them out you pretty much don’t need a reference. Snow, on the other hand, looks completely different depending not only on the light but the wetness, dryness, powder texture, hard icy surface, surrounding ice, what’s underneath, and then all the nearby reflections. I used just as many references for the snow as I did for the moose, which was even more challenging to find in an era where everything has some kind of Instagram filter slapped on it to distort the natural appearance. Lastly, I don’t really having any experience composing a mostly white landscape image.

Majestic Albino Moose Watercolor Painting by Karolina Szablewska
Most of the snow, water, and dark shadows painted, I have to make the difficult and risky decision of sticking to the glowing lineart I initially envisioned.

Composition was really a challenge with this painting. I wanted to create an image that’s both subtle and high contrast, so making a white animal pop on a white background without the image being completely flat and boring was hard. With most of my paintings now, I check if the composition works on the most basic, stripped level as an abstract painting of shapes and colors. What holds this image together is angular blue lines, the complementing nature of dark red vs. dark green, the simple dark vs. light values, then less abstract elements like the deep perspective and pastel palette. I created this composition with the added challenge of portraying the grand scale of the moose, which meant I couldn’t pad out the image with plants that would detract from his size and appear as clutter against the snow. One of the things that can be both boring and fascinating about Northern animals is their ability to camouflage into our neutral environments, so showing that camouflage was part of the intent and challenge. Likewise, the color choices I made were based around making the moose as godly and ethereal as I possibly could, so leaving this whiteness undisturbed by dark lines and emphasizing it with a glowing orange line was key to creating that effect.

Finished Painting

Red Velvet Antlers on Bull Moose watercolor painting by karolina szablewska
22″x30″ ink, acrylgouache, and watercolor painting on Arches watercolor paper. ~2021

If you like this painting, check out the rest of the series!

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