Skies in Watercolour

The approach to painting skies in watercolour lias to be quite different from that for any other media. Although watercolour is so exciting and stimulating, it is also rather unforgiving. In other media it's possible to build up your sky methodically, but a watercolour sky needs to be immediate, fresh and spontaneous. Edward Wesson used to say, 'It's only where we find we have to tinker about afterwards, adding a bit here and a bit there, and in the process gradually obliterating the liveliness of the paper, that we will know we've failed.' (Incidentally, Ed, like me, almost always used Bockingford paper for his water-colours.) This temptation to 'tinker about with it afterwards' is almost inevitable, so you must discipline yourself to leave well alone. It's much better to have a fresh sky with a few Haws in it than a tidy sky which is overworked. One of my favourite skies is shown on pages 34 and 35. You'll see that there are 'runs' and 'blues' in

I painted this tranquil autumn scene very much wet into wet, as I tried to capture the lingering mistiness of a sunny morning. The timing and strength of paint are the biggest factors here. There is a certain amount of guesswork involved as to just when to drop in the next stage, but your guesswork will get better the more you do. The sky was put in as a wet raw sienna wash, followed by a gradated mixture of ultramarine, with a touch of light red. The distant hills are a mixture of ultramarine and alizarin, put in just before the sky had completely dried. Then came the trees on the left, with a mix of raw sienna and light red. For the darker trees on the right, I made a richer mixture of light red and ultramarine. It's surprising how few colours are needed for a scene like this. The secret is to use them in different strengths. If you get the mixtures just right, the result is a very harmonious painting.

it which could have been tidied; but then the spontaneity would have been completely spoiled. You really have to 'go with the flow' and learn, to some extent at least, to let the watercolour do its own thing. So let yourself go a little, take your courage in both hands and be prepared to waste some paper in pursuit of the joy of watercolour sky. Another friend of mine, Frank Webb, always says that to him having a large supply of paper is like having many tomorrows. He will always begin again on a new sheet rather than trying to rectify a bad start.

No two skies will ever be the same, but they are all a product of your skill - with just a little luck thrown in. Exciting, isn't it?

This simple snow scene was completed using only three colours: Prussian blue, raw sienna and burnt umber. The Prussian blue was dropped into a weak wash of raw sienna, with the paper at an angle to allow it to gradate. The background hills are a mixture of Prussian blue and burnt umber and mixes of these colours of varying strengths were used throughout the painting. The rigger work, which I put in last, added a touch of contrasting calligraphy. A very simple painting, but evocative of that winter's day in February.

The painting below was done on the island of Kalymnos as a demonstration to my students on one of the painting holidays I run. The sky was completely clear but of course had to be gradated. The hillside was put in as quickly and as simply as possible, while taking care to get some variation of colour. At the time the sea seemed impossibly dark, but the contrast increases the sense of dazzling light on the mountains. The main object of this exercise was to achieve a sense of contrast and sparkle. After the painting was finished, we all retired to the shade of the taverna for coffee and ouzo.

I love snow scenes, particularly on a sunny day. On this particular day, the sky was a wonderful blue with a rippling of light cirrus cloud. Irresistible! But how to capture that cloud formation in watercolour without overworking it? The answer turned out to be very simple. I dabbed the shapes out of the damp sky with a dry tissue wrapped round my finger, making sure that the clouds were larger at the top than at the bottom. Again I used a very restricted palette of burnt sienna, ultramarine and raw sienna, with just a few touches of light red.

SKIES IN STAGES

I. Usually I begin a sky by putting a very pale wash of raw sienna right down to the horizon. It's so pale that you may find it a little difficult to see in this illustration.

a. Immediately, 1 make a strong mix of 90 per cent Payne's grey and 10 per cent alizarin, and, using a whole arm movement, 1 put on the wash for the first large cloud. This must be done while the raw sienna is still wet.

1. For this cumulus sky, after the initial raw sienna wash, the top clouds are indicated by creating negative shapes with the blue. Again, the blue should be quite strong as it goes into the still-damp wash.

2. As you proceed towards the horizon, again make sure that the clouds are smaller and closer together. Note that one cloud is dominant.

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Canvas Painting For Beginners

Canvas Painting For Beginners

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