Sky Techniques

Beyond the Clear Blue Sky




Who doesn’t love a good sky? Skies in Landscape painting are fundamental, and they play a very important role in the overall success of a piece. Most of the time, the light and luminosity in a painting comes from how strongly the sky is painted. It can make or break a painting. It can transform an otherwise boring scene into something strong and lively. Let’s go over a few of my approaches to skies and how I use them to establish the mood and atmosphere of a piece.

The Flat Wash.

This one is essential. To have this in your repertoire is vital and it will always do its job for you as long as you paint it quickly and with confidence. It is a great way to establish the light and what kind of day and time of day you’re dealing with. It is also a very good sky to choose when the focus of the scene is busy. Remember to balance out the composition. A busy scene with a busy sky can be overwhelming to the eye and lead to an unsuccessful and confused piece of work. Whatever colouring you choose, err on the side of lighter tones, rather than heavy, that way the scene won’t lose its luminosity and lustre. The way I paint a flat washed sky is to spray the paper a little first to help the wash take effect and more importantly to alleviate some of the harsh straight lines that can develop on bone-dry paper. Next, just attack it! Go crazy! While the paper is wet you can paint in whatever direction you like, as long as it is done quickly and with confidence and you DO NOT go back over anything once it has started to dry. The end result will be a nice, flat, subtle sky that will serve as a great source of light.

The Graded Wash.

We paint this with the same approach as we use in the Flat Wash. The big difference is we lighten the tone up as we get closer to the horizon by using clear water instead of paint. You can also use a different colour towards the horizon of course, but please make sure it is lighter in value than the top of the sky. This is a great one for dawn or dusk work. The light-valued horizon makes for a great backdrop for ‘into-the-light’, silhouette scenes with Buildings and figures etc.

The Loose clouds

My Favourite to paint because you just let loose! While I adhere to the ‘rule’ of tone being lighter at the horizon, I apply clean water to random sections of the sky area, then proceed to add colours to those wet areas, which in turn leaves the dry paper as our clouds. I finesse any unnatural looking edges with clean water and let it dry. Grey, blue, orange… a mixture of all three, of ANYthing you want really. The most important part with this is to work quickly and make sure that you are left with a good variety of edges and that any straight lines or arrow-shapes that may have formed are softened. This will make life easier when you’re looking at the finished product because I assure you that those clumsy hard shapes in the sky will haunt you for the rest of your days.

The Stormy Normy

When needing a big, forbidding cloud shape, I like to do it in two stages. Usually the sky is painted in a set and forget kind of way. You do it first, you do it quickly and then you move on. For my kind of stormy clouds, I paint my initial sky with the ‘Loose Clouds’ approach, then when the entire scene is completed and perfectly dry, I mix up my big, dark could colour. I like indigo here but use whatever you like. I wet the area of the sky where my dark cloud will be with clean water. Then just float your brush around and get a whole bunch of that dark stuff on there. Let it flow and run. Keep a tissue handy to mop up any unruly drips. No one likes an unruly drip! Flip the board up and over and side to side. Just remember, to get maximum depth and distance, ensure that the cloud shapes that are close to the horizon are smaller than those at the top. Work it for as long as you like, as long as it is all still wet, you’ll be fine.

I hope these tips encourage you to be more adventurous and freer with your skies.

A few things to remember.

· Don’t make your skies too strong.

· A mixture of cool and warm is always good.

· Leave white gaps. Use the paper’s texture

· Let it rip! Don’t be timid. We’re only painting!




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