Introduction Understanding Skies Materials
Skies in Watercolour Skies on Location Skies in Other Media Design in Skies Using Your Camera Special Effects Photographs as a Source Reach for a Sky Completing the Picture Examples from the Experts Index
You may be asking yourself why I'm attempting a book exclusively about skies. You may even think that this is getting too specialized. However, having written several general books on water-colour, I've come back time and time again to the realization that skies dictate the whole mood and feeling of a painting. Yet this aspect of painting remains one of the most neglected and while much time and concentration are spent on things such as trees, buildings and rivers, the sky often remains merely an afterthought.
Let's take a moment or two to imagine a quiet estuary drenched in sunshine which blazes down from a clear blue sky — just feel the warmth! Now transform the scene. Perhaps there's a storm approaching, and the warm blue gives way to dark, cool grey, which is matched by the water below. Although all the component parts of the scene are exactly the same, the whole atmosphere has changed and the mood is completely different
Why, then, when it is obviously so important, is the sky treated in such a cavalier fashion? It seems to me that one of the main reasons is fear, caused by a lack of knowledge. As a teacher, I am often amazed how little basic knowledge students have about the sky above them. Even such fundamentals as the fact that white cumulus clouds are like pieces of cotton wool under a spotlight, with a shadow beneath them, have to be explained.
The feeling of peace and space in this composition is enhanced by the mixture of warm and cool colours throughout the painting. A sense of unity is provided by the reflection in the water of the warm patch of sky above, and by the grey of the clouds being repeated in the trees on the distant horizon. The eye is directed, by the main sweep of clouds, to the dark group of trees and their reflection on the left. The greatest warmth has been reserved for the foreground shore, giving perspective and depth to the scene.
Also, that these clouds are large in the foreground and become smaller as they recede towards the horizon. One would think that people never raise their eyes heavenwards or glance out of a window! This leads me to another important point. Always remember that what we see as we look up or out does not have to be faithfully reproduced in every detail. Hopefully, what we see will act as a catalyst to inspire our own creativity as we attempt to capture the mood and feelings brought about by a particular sky.
In the course of the book I've tried to cover every aspect of painting skies (although I'm sure you will always find others to tantalize and excite you). We'll look at some of the problem areas, such as how to make clouds look light and fluffy, or menacing and heavy, and how to gradate a clear blue sky, giving it interest and expression.
I hope that you will become as enthralled by the subject of skies as I am. I truly believe that the sky, in any of its guises, provides one of the richest and most rewarding subjects, as well as the most inspirational. My first idea for a title for this book was Reach for a Sky, and this is what I want you to do whenever you feel in need of a little inspiration. The material isn't meant to be copied - in fact, that's impossible. Because of the speed at which you have to work, no two skies are ever going to be the same - that's all part of the excitement. But the examples will hopefully boost your confidence and help your design. Successful skies are a combination of acquired skill, some courage and a little luck. It's surprising, though, how much your luck increases as your skills improve.
The sky colour here dominates, as it influences all other colours throughout the scene, especially the surface of the snow. The main object of interest is the gate. Not only is it the sole man-made object in the scene, but also the eye is directed towards it by the track, and by having the brightest colour behind it. The vertical trees serve several purposes: they lock sky and landscape together; the calligraphy emphasizes the softness of the sky; and the fir tree adds a rich quality to the scene.
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