Thanks to everyone who sends me these sorts of questions. While I cannot possibly answer every single one, I try my best. This particular question was sent to me as well as a few other artists recently. It was too good not to share. Here is the original question and my answer:
"I thought I would ask 3 people who know about painting both snow and the white sand beaches of the Gulf coast. Is there a difference in painting those whites both in light and shadow? Is there a bias that cold snow is painted with cooler colors and the hot sand with warmer ones? Or is it completely dependent on the light at the time of day you are painting?
Dear Mike, This is such a great question! Because I am not a formulaic painter, and I learn so much from what I am actually seeing out there, I have tried to break down this idea myself. In other words, am I just painting the sand the same way as snow? The answer is no.
While sometimes the shadows may seem similar, the time of day and type of light really determine the colors. Also, the shapes formed by snow are very different. Finally, there is a completely different texture and piling of sand than there is snow.
It’s like grits vs a snow cone. Grits do not absorb and reflect light the same prismatic way that a snow cone would. Even though there are sparkles in the sand due to its make up of mineral particles and rocks, rarely would an individual grain of sand be anywhere near as transparent as a flake of snow. I think on first glance one might think they are the same, but they are not. That prismatic effect of light shining on and through ice can be different even if the snow is very dry and airy or if it is very wet.
Observation is your best bet. I have, for example, observed a warm golden color on a pure white beach at certain times of the day. Other times of day it appears cool. Because everything in a painting is relative, this conversely effects the color of the shadows as well.
Final thought, while warm yellow sand feels great between your toes, never eat yellow snow. ;)