Although this is a book about skies and their importance in landscape painting, they can hardly ever be produced in isolation. You need a foreground, however minimal, to give them impact and scale. As we've said before, there should be a strong unifying link between the two, such as using common colours, vertical elements on the skyline, echoed shapes and in some cases cloud shadow on the ground or water. If you really want to enjoy your sky, then keep the foreground simple. You don't want the two elements fighting for pride of place. A busy foreground or street scene would be completely incongruous against a wild sky. Also, I must reiterate my warning about cutting the picture in half. The skyline must be above or below the centre of your paper.
Let's look now more specifically at some of the elements we've mentioned.
The skyline is, of course, where the land meets the sky, and as such is of vital importance to the success of your picture. Integration is the name of the game here. You must use every means available to avoid creating two separate units. Have a look at the illustrations throughout the book, paying particular attention to the various
The linking elements I've used in this picture are both soft and hard. The background trees and hills were put in while the sky was still damp; the large trees on the right were left until later. A point to remember is that leaving a gap in your painting for trees simply doesn't work, as the colour of the sky should always show through the branches. Note how the sky colour is reflected in both the snow and the river, providing additional unity. The reflection of the large trees in the water was put in wet into wet, providing further contrast with the hard trees above.
devices which I, and other artists, have used to integrate the two elements in a harmonious but exciting way.
These links can be either soft or hard. For example, in a Scottish highland scene, the foreground mountains might be painted up into the sky while the clouds are still wet, to give the impression of falling rain or mist. This would create a soft link and can be visually exciting, particularly if combined with some hard-edged mountains in the further distance - see page 117. Another example of this would be soft wet into wet trees, with a hard-edged tower on another part of the horizon. Remember, though, you always need to use strong paint on a still-damp surface to avoid too much fuzziness. Also, to obtain a really sharp, hard edge, you must wait until the sky is completely dry before putting
A good unifying feature is the sky colour being echoed in the foreground pond, while the link between land and sky is both hard and soft, as the low cloud drifts in front of the mountain. The hardness of the foreground rocks is a good contrast with the soft sky. This hard effect is achieved by the judicious scraping of a credit card on still-damp paint.
This peaceful and harmonious scene has been brought about by keeping all the colours to one side of the spectrum. The tree on the left is an important feature. It links land and sky, gives good contrast, balances the heavy cloud formation and introduces a richer note into the composition. Notice the placing of the birds in the lightest patch of sky.
in your tower. Nothing looks worse than fuzzy buildings caused by impatience.
Any sky painting will be predominantly horizontal and must therefore contain some minor vertical elements; otherwise you may end up with something that looks like a section of a sandwich! Here are some well-tried and trusted linking elements: towers or steeples; windmills; trees or mountains; cranes; telegraph poles; houses; the human figure; cliffs; docks; piers and jetties; sails - white against dark clouds are particularly useful. However, always remember to position these away from the centre of the painting. The magic formula for the ideal spot is a different distance from each edge of the page. If you're using several objects try to interlock them to create one visual unit rather than a collection of scattered parts. The objects need to be counterchanged well for emphasis, no matter how small they are. For example, a sunlit church could be placed against a dark cloud. Conversely, a dark tower can be very dramatic against a light patch of sky. All these elements should be thought out while doing your tonal sketch. The sky will have to be designed to accommodate these effects. Remember too that you may have to reverse the dark/light effect half-way up. For example, a ship's mast may have to be light against a dark dock, but change
to dark where it reaches the sky. This may sound strange, but it does work visually.
I want us to look now at the general treatment of foreground. What we must avoid at all costs is linking a beautiful, liquid sky to a muddy and overworked foreground, thus ruining the whole picture. Often the problem is that although you have to put in your sky quickly to keep it fresh, unfortunately there is more time for the foreground, so you fiddle with it, putting in layer upon layer, ending up with mud. It may help to rehearse your foreground on a separate piece of paper.
Often with a sky picture, you'll have only about 4 centimetres (lj inches) to convey a landscape going back perhaps 8 kilometres (5 miles). This is where you need to use your knowledge of aerial perspective to the utmost. The distant hill could be put in a Hat grey blue, warming up gradually as you move towards the front of the picture, which will be in warm, rich colours, and it's in this area that you should confine any textural detail. Just have a look at the examples on pages 112 and 113. A favourite subject in foregrounds is rocks, and done well they can provide shape, contrast and even harmony. But they do need to be convincing, which means substantial! Rocks are heavy, hard and solid objects, so that is how they must appear in our paintings. If you have a good look at a rocky landscape, you'll see that the lightest part of any rock is always facing the light source, which is, of course, the sky. The sides are darker, and darkest of all is the part facing away from the light source. You can make good use of the shadows cast by other objects to show up the shape of the rock, while if you keep the base
Here the yachts of varying size introduce a contrasting vertical element into a mainly horizontal painting, as well as giving a focal point. A difficulty with this type of foreground is establishing a strong textural quality without overworking. One technique is to leave areas of white paper which gives sparkle. However, don't overdo it - you don't want to end up with scattered whites!
lighter in tone, it gives the impression of light bouncing off the ground.
You will need texture on the rock. One way to establish the top surface is with the swift stroke of a dry brush. Another is to remov e paint from the top surface with a credit card while the paint is still damp. Directional strokes are valuable here too, horizontal for the top and vertical for the side. As always, make good use of counterchange. Show up the profile of a dark rock against a light background, or vice versa. Vary the size of your rocks, and the distance between them, to prevent boredom. Making them larger in the front and smaller in the distance will help the perspective. Have a good variety of colour too. I like to use different amounts of brown and blue mixed together. Any buildings in the foreground need to be left simple. A whole wall should be painted as a mass of varying colour, with just a little surface texture. Employ counterchange again to bring excitement into your foreground. If you're using fields or woodlands, remember to confine texture to the very front of your picture.
An important part of the foreground will be the device used to take the eye into the picture. There are many ways of doing this. It could be a lane or a stream, or the curve of a beach, but they must all create interest, inviting the viewer into the painting and up to your focal point.
The trees here are a very important part of the composition, enhancing the gentler sky. Their calligraphy also provides a useful link, giving unity to the picture. The elements of unity and harmony are strengthened by the reflected colours in the lake, while contrast is provided by the rich tones of the trees against the much cooler sky.
Cloud shadows can be used to great dramatic effect on a distant hillside, but remember to diminish their size as they recede. They may be racing across the landscape or forming deeper tones on fields or buildings, or changing colours on a sea or lake. One method of unifying the foreground with the sky is to repeat some of the sky colour. Water will always reflect back the colours in the sky and can be very effective, but this repetition need not apply only to water. The colour of some clouds can be repeated in distant woodland, while a white fluffy cloud may be echoed in a white building. Also, the shape of a cloud can be echoed by similarly shaped trees on the ground. Once you have learned to look at the scene in front of you, the possibilities are endless.
As well as inland landscapes, you will find that seascapes, beaches and estuaries make exciting foils to a sky painting. They provide excellent opportunities for cloud shadows on the water.
This is another painting where the trees have a variety of tasks to perform in the composition. Their weight and colour balance the dark cloud in the left of the sky, while they also contrast well with the cool serenity of the snow-covered mountain. This cool quality is enhanced by the blue greens in front of the mountain, and the picture gradually warms up as we reach the foreground - an aid to perspective, as well as a good lead into the picture.
A foreground wave will make a good link between sky and sea. In a beach scene, when indicating pebbles, it's often sufficient to put in a fiat but colourful wash using a dry brush technique. Just a suggestion of pebbles in one corner will stimulate the viewer's imagination. Similarly, grasses on sand dunes should be done economically; putting in each blade will simply look monotonous.
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