Painting Dramatic Skies
Drama in a painting depends upon energy produced by a sense of rhythm, and contrasts in line, colour, tone and hue must all work together as one. Plan carefully and paint rapidly, choreographing your brain, eye and hand.
You will need: rough paper, a soft, full pointy mop brush, a flat synthetic brush, a spray bottle, tissues, colbalt, phthalo blue and cerulean blue, pyrrol orange, raw sienna, alizarin crimson, clean
In your palette double the amount of pigment and water
that you think you need. Watercolour depends on four aspects:
water, pigment, timing and gravity.
1. Cumulus clouds are water vapour spheres. Aim to produce a collection of spheres with fluffy blurry edges that give theimpression of volume and stacking. Practise spheres on watercolour paper. Think of clouds being stacked and the lower ones getting tonally pale and duller.
2. Blue sky and orange are complementary; unequal mied of these colours will produce a lovely grey within the cloud.
3. The sky will have different hues and tonal range vertically and horizontally depending on time of day and closeness to the sun. In general for a New Zealand sky go for cobalt at the top and cerulean at the bottom. For a brighter more dramatic blue I often add a touch of phthalo blue to cobalt.
4. Lightly draw your clouds with a 4B. Aim for a dominant area with Golden Ratio in mind. Paint the clouds first. Wet the area you want to paint inside the cloud leaving dry paper for the highlights. Paint the grey mix just below the edge of the water line and thicken the mix for stronger tones under the clouds. Use a spray bottle or flick water and blur some edges.
The whole process is done in one go, wet into wet; thickening up the pigment as you go to form darker tones and therefore form. Clouds are always paler than the land.
5. For the blue sky, load up with a large quantity of cobalt blue and hold you brush horizontally pushing into the rough tooth of the paper around the cloud; this is called “scumbling”.
6. Paint the whole sky rapidly; don’t panic, if it doesn’t turn out quickly wash it off while the shine is still there. I use the shower hose; dry and start again.
7. Sunsets: thin washes of cerulean, then clear water to yellows, bright oranges and reds. Dark silhouetted clouds are thick, buttery consistency; try cadmium red and cerulean. Wet into wet. Remember - it is the contrasting hue, tone and chroma that are creating the drama.
Paint thin to thicker (pigment to water ratio) during the
painting process until finished.
Much of the feeling of a landscape painting is governed by the sky, and to be able to paint one is a necessary tool of the landscape painter.
Dramatic skies imply contrast - contrast in shapes, edges, tones and colours, characteristics that are the tools of trade of the landscape artist. Such skies can involve almost all of the colours of your palette, particularly in the range of greys that occur in cloud formations. Dramatic skies almost always involve clouds, so cloud formations are important - to paint the sky, it is best to be outdoors - if not, don’t rely on a single photograph - have a number to look at to let you appreciate cloud shapes rather than copy a single photograph. After all, the cloudscape is never still and your painting will change as you work on the sky.
Lost and found, soft and hard edges are typical and add interest to the cloud formations. To paint them, a good idea is to randomly brush or spray the sky area of the paper with clear water. When applying colour, break in and out of the wet areas resulting in a mixture of hard and soft edges. A dramatic sky often has clouds that vary through 4 to 5 tonal values, so using your 10 scale tonal value strip is important.
Many of the greys of the clouds are biased towards purples, reds, browns and yellows - much of the sky, particularly at the horizon, is more yellow in colour rather than white, so a wash of raw sienna is an effective tool.
The blue of the sky, of which there is normally little in a dramatic sky, is deeper at the top, gradating through ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, to raw sienna. Clouds become bluer, and smaller and lower on the horizon as they get further away.
If you want a cloudscape that has few hard edges, wet the whole area and randomly drip brush-fulls of greys (e.g. ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and brown madder or rose madder, and alizarin crimson and viridian) together with brushes of blues, leaving 40 to 50% of white. Rock the paper as the paint dries and some dramatic skies will result. This was a favourite method of my first tutor, Brian Millard. Finally remember that the clouds cast shadows, both on other clouds, the landscape and the sea below.
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