Painting another realistic sky

Abandoned House, Graney

Abandoned House, Graney

I notice in many instructional painting videos, the items in a landscape are represented as solid shapes as they should be, but clouds are painted in the same way as solid objects. There seems to be no consideration of the nature of skies. The fact that the sky is not solid means it should be painted in a different way to how the solid objects are painted. ‘Dabbing’ white paint onto a blue gradient to represent a sky is the least helpful method for a beginner. Apart from poorly representing what we see or what we know a sky is like, the method is ‘dead-ended’ and does not allow progression and improvement through practice. In other words, the first ‘dabbed’ sky you paint will be the same as your last.

This post is an explanation of the method I use to paint realistic skies. You might find it useful. I have included a video in real time which will make it easier to see the process.

I used only 3 colours in this painting, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue. All 3 were used in the sky. The subject of the painting determined these colours. To create the sky I always use same colours as are used in the rest of the painting. This helps overcome the first difficulty in painting a sky, that is, making it an integral part of the scene. As a bonus there will be a harmony of colour within the painting.

Using photos of skies, is helpful when I plan a sky to fit into a painting. You will never find a perfect sky which can be copied. Its the effects of light and shapes I find helpful. The overall composition of the painting will dictate the sky in the final painting.

Its important that there is an ‘apparent’ randomness in the shapes of clouds. It cannot be completely random as in a photo, because it has to add to the entire composition. If we look at the painting above, the tree and the foreground on the left must be balanced by something on the right. This is almost achieved by the old house. Its position is just off-centre, but not far enough, and the composition will need a little more on the right to achieve balance. The sky provides this by adding weight to the right hand side. In planning the sky I will put more colours and shapes into the right side and have the left side, more or less, featureless. This part of the process happens mostly in the final stages of the sky painting.

To go back to the beginning, firstly I start with the cloud shapes. I used pure blue and solvent to roughly sketch out the shapes. This is deliberately ‘rough’ to introduce as many random patterns and shapes which will be developed later. Before the solvent completely evaporates, I paint a mixture of white with a tiny amount of yellow into the parts that will form the final cloudless blue bits. At this stage I am conscious of the need to concentrate on the right side.

I now make a mix of grey for the cloud shadows. So into what remains of the previous colour, I add red (Burnt Sienna), then more blue and a little black to get a mid grey. This is a nice clean colour as there are only 2 colours and the tiniest amount of a third, the yellow. Painted flatly this would produce a boring area of grey. But the patchy blue on the canvas and the remains of the white on the brush ensures that there is enough variation in this area. The next grey is a lighter grey made from white and a little black. This is applied with the same brush onto areas already painted so this neutral grey will vary into multiple colours. The final shapes of clouds are beginning to appear and I will try and get as much ‘apparent’ randomness into these shapes as I progress. More red and black is added to the grey for the clouds at the top as this part of the sky is closest to the viewer.

At this stage I start to blend the various patches of colour together. At the same time, with the same brush, I paint in cloud shapes especially on the right hand side. The blending action will pick up paint on the brush and this is used to paint in the cloud shapes. This blending is an alternating series of diagonal, vertical and horizontal light swipes of the brush on paint surface.

The paint must be the right thickness on the surface, the solvent must be almost evaporated and, of course, the colours must be in the right place. The same brush, a wide filbert, is used from start to finish without cleaning. No medium was used, only the solvent, white spirits. Its a skill requiring a bit of practice but well worth the effort. For me its a great method to represent non-solid objects in a painting. Remember, apart from clouds, mist, fog, smoke, rain etc., reflections on water are also non solid and can be represented using this method.

As the details of shadows or highlights are painted, I will continue to blend the colours until the final stages when the last highlights are painted in. Sometimes these also get the blending treatment.

Here’s the video of the process. I hope you find it helpful. See you soon.


Rough Pasture

Rough Pasture

Rough Pasture

Firstly, I would like to thank all who gave me a ‘like’ in the recent art competition. It resulted in me getting 2nd place in the competition. It was a bit of fun and only means I have a lot of nice friends on Facebook. I don’t think competition is good in artwork. Its great in sport, not in art.

Landscape paintings, for me at least, can be photographic or fantasy. I don’t mean a real location as opposed to an imagined scene, but rather how we depict the world we are creating in a painting. At the moment there are many teachers, especially on YouTube, promoting a painting style for beginners which aims to replicate photographs. This often involves ‘dabbing’ with a large brush to represent anything from clouds to trees. At the moment, trees are in full foliage and in photographs if viewed objectively, look like very large sprigs of broccoli. Broccoli is solid and trees are mostly empty space, but the look alike. Before photography conditioned the way we see, artists painted trees the way we knew they were. To do this, trees were painted as if they were sliced in half, letting us see most of the trunk and branches with the leaves attached. Sometimes this stylisation went too far but in the absence of photographic references it was accepted at the time.

I try and go somewhere between the 2 extremes. A recognisable tree with the nature of its structure visible. Photographs of trees are great for reference but if copied from a photograph by ‘dabbing’, they look like solid objects. The resultant landscapes tend to be ‘heavy’ and monotonous.

The same applies to the painting of clouds in a landscape. The ‘dabbing’ method produces clouds looking like enormous solid structures floating in the blue sky. To illustrate how I paint skies, I’ve revisited some recent paintings with cloudy skies and uploaded the videos in real-time to give you a better understanding of how I paint clouds looking the way they are, not how they appear in photographs. I will post an explanation of the process here in the coming days but in the meantime, if you want to go directly to my YouTube channel, look for ‘Realistic Sky’ among the videos there.

Here is the video of the above painting. This painting uses only 3 colours (Windsor Lemon, Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue) plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits.


Colours of Summer

Colours of Summer

Colours of Summer

These summer colours are bogland shades, quite different from the agricultural greens of cultivated land. At this time of year I need a break from the aforementioned colour so I exchange lush grass for the heathers of ‘marginal’ land. The reds, oranges and purples make a nice change.

I read recently the EU are considering a ban on Cadmium paints because of the dangers to the environment. Apparently when we wash our brushes, the Cadmium gets into the waste water and then into the sewerage processing plants. The waste is then spread on agricultural land, ending up in the food chain. Will the ban come to pass? Possibly.

This is not the reason I’m using Winsor Lemon yellow at the moment. I just wanted a yellow with less red than Cadmium, more of a pure yellow. The Winsor colours were developed by Winsor and Newton as pure colour like the rainbow colours. Its a nice clean yellow but gets a bit ‘muddy’ in mixes. So good colour, bad mixer is how I would rate it.

The painting has only 4 colours, Winsor Lemon Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Cobalt Blue plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits.

The sky here is one of those ‘patterned’ varieties I’m seeing a lot lately. The difficulty with these cloud formations is the perspective as the clouds stretch away to the horizon. As you will see in the video I painted a ‘grid’ in blue where the rules of perspective are easy to apply. On this grid the clouds are roughly placed. Its a great help when you are trying to get apparent random shapes on the one hand and follow a strict perspective layout on the other.

Here’s the video. See you soon.

Late May

Late May

Late May

A quick painting to celebrate the ‘greenness’ of the landscape as it is at the moment. The problem with this is the monotonous ’40 shades of green’ or more like the 40 million shades of green. In nature the richness of green is great but in a painting its boring.

I try and include, in the painting, the colours which make green (blue and yellow) and let them visually mix – a method used by the Impressionists. This produces a vibrant green scene without the monotony of a single colour.

The actual paint colours used were Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits.

Here’s the video, see you soon.