Friday, July 18, 2014

creating gorgeous skies, Friday Newsletter

(Newsletter excerpt for Friday July 18th)

One of my favourite things to do on a summer’s day is to sit on our front verandah and watch the sky – especially on days when there are lots of fast moving clouds.
I mention this because rendering skies – specifically clouds, is the topic of this week’s newsletter.

 A reader, Karen from Ohio, is also a huge fan of cloud watching. She wrote and asked for some tips on capturing clouds in her art. Here is an excerpt from her email,
“I have been reading your blog for a long time and I remember how you once posted about the cloud watching you were enjoying. I also love watching clouds and I was wondering if you could give me some ideas on things to consider when sketching and colouring clouds. Oh and I really like sunsets.”
This is a great question, thanks Karen (and I am delighted you have been a blog reader over the years).

 (This is a view from our verandah looking left. The roof top you can see in the lower left corner is the roof of our small log barn)
First up, let’s acknowledge that the sky can be a significant part of the drama of a landscape. A lot of artists focus so much on the scene they are depicting, whether rural buildings, a forest, or cityscape, that it seems as if the sky is kind of thrown in at the end, almost as an afterthought.

In terms of composition, there are various options to consider when painting skies. If you really want to make the sky the ‘star’ of the painting, I suggest you use a low horizon line. This would make the majority of your piece composed of sky. In this approach, with the sky as the center of interest, consider the foreground plane simply as comparatively dark shapes.

Position the line of the foreground as low as you dare. I would still create interesting darks, in those dark shapes. I am not suggesting flat, dark blobs. J

Of course clouds move along in a state of constant change so be prepared to work fast or snap some pictures to freeze the action.

If you are working in coloured pencil, a way to work faster would be to use coloured paper. Depending on your colour selection, you could have a mid-tone or darker value to work up from.

You could also use sketching paper and quickly note down the shapes and colours and then use these ideas to complete the work once the sky show is finished.

When composing your picture, take note of the interesting shapes that appear as the clouds roll, billow and form new shapes. Which shapes do you want to highlight or feature? Simply compose your sky the same way you would any other subject. Find areas of interest to draw attention to, choose a focal point.

Ask yourself what your goal is in depicting the clouds. Perhaps you wish to convey a mood. Skies can be calming and peaceful and they can also make us ponder the largeness of life.

Watching storm clouds approach can give us a sense of anticipation, as we await rain or wind. In the case of a particularly menacing sky, dark clouds can even evoke dread or fear.
another verandah view

 The key to a dramatic, powerful sky is to use lots of rich colour. Really look at those clouds and ask yourself what colours you see - what gray greens do you see, what shades of purple? Think way beyond blue sky and white clouds. Exaggerate these colours, the way you would when drawing a white flower or when colouring shadows.

Sunsets: sunsets are fleeting so the challenge is to get set up well in advance of the big show. Perhaps try working small, (at least at first, while you get your bearings in doing skyscapes) say 8x10 inches or 9x 12 in order to get what you want down, in the limited time you have.

Sunset Tip: When you are looking west, you are looking at cloud formations that are covering the lowering of the sun. The brightest colours – yellow, oranges, reds and purples – are usually on the underlying plane of the clouds. Use bright intense colours to paint sunsets, don’t hold back.

 another view of sky, barn roof and tree tops J

 Finally, I suggest viewing the work of artists that do clouds really well. Examine how they approach the subject. What is it about their work that you like? In your opinion, what are they doing well?

I really like the work of coloured pencil artist Priscilla Humay. Her website is and if you click here, you will go directly to a gallery page that shows her clouds. Her soft edges are dreamy and luscious.

I am also huge fan of Louisa McElwain’s work. Her landscapes have such intriguing skies. If you like palette knife painting and thick smears of oil paint, you should check out her work by clicking here.
Thanks Karen for a great question. If anyone else has a question they would like to see answered, please email me. I won’t use your full name so you can remain anonymous if you wish.

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