In order to get myself out of the studio, I recently had the opportunity to take a plein aire paintout Saturday morning class with Susan Blackwood and her husband, Howard Friedland. Although they both are oil painters, I was able to take away some valuable points when painting skies and clouds that would be applicable for any medium.
•When painting with watercolors, put the sky in first, light to dark, back to front, warm to cool.
•Remember the sky is a dome, darker directly above and then getting lighter on the horizon.
The other dome consideration is seeing how much lighter the sky is when going from the sun side and then darkening further away from the light source on the opposite horizon.
I kept these two points in mind when selecting colors to generate that dome feeling and somewhat compressing the sky on my painting to generate that visual spatial relationship. It was a glorious cloudless sunny morning, but being an artist, I had the ability to put clouds in because I can!
The other thing to remember about clouds is they are water vapor so no hard edges and emphasize those flat areas on the bottom of your clouds (if you are painting that style of clouds). Notice how they get flatter and smaller the further they move away on the horizon.
One thing I needed to remember when painting in a sky is to keep the negative shape of the sky interesting.
This is why small thumbnail value sketches are so important. I work out those issues prior to going to the board. Also, clouds and skies can create an overall mood, such as a wind storm causing yellow skies, a hail storm can actually make the sky greenish, and we have all seen those raging thunderstorms come boiling in with dark grays. I also like the sunsets that push purples, oranges, pinks, yellows, reds, and blues reflected against the clouds.
Georgia O’Keeffe painted a series about being above the clouds when she was inspired on her first jet flight. So literally, the sky’s the limit! It’s so great to be the artist and create interesting shapes and fill them with beautiful colors.
Michele Beck, MTWS President