Painting Blue Skies | Applying the Theory of Light, Part 2

Last week, I started a discussion in “Painting Blue Skies, Part 1” on how best to deal with an extremely intense blue sky in an otherwise warm landscape scene. I emphasized the importance of representing light by indicating a full spectrum of color and talked about a method of selecting analogous hues of blue and painting them with fragmented strokes to achieve this. A second technique for indicating the full spectrum of light in a sky is to underpaint using a complementary tone and then apply blue so that bits and pieces of the undertone show through. The opposite of cool blue on a color wheel is orange, which is composed of red and yellow. If the sky tone is blue-green or blue-violet, a redder orange or yellower orange tone should be used for the underpainting. Any time two colors that are directly opposite from each other on a color wheel are used, they will complete the spectrum of light. Of course, if they mix together, they will neutralize one another and produce a grayed tone. Conversely, if they visually appear in equal proportions, they can fight for importance, defeating the desired effect.

“Eucalyptus Aglow”, 16x12. The sky of this painting was done on a warm underpainting with pastel emphasizing the temperature of the sunlight versus the intensity of the actual blue sky.

The sky in my painting, Eucalyptus Aglow (pastel, 16×12), was done over a warm pastel underpainting emphasizing the temperature of the sunlight versus the intensity of the actual blue sky.

Complementary Underpainting: Since the underpainting is meant to show through, even in minute proportions, it is of paramount importance that it be similar in value to the final blue sky. When value consistency is lost, surface integrity will be compromised and the warm and cool tones will appear very separate from one another and look like floating objects in the sky. The saturation (chromatic intensity) of the blue sky should also be considered. Is it very intense or a dull blue/gray sky? This will govern the brightness or weakness of the complementary toned underpainting. They need to share a similar intensity to create the vibration of color that represents light.

Underpainting Methods: The methods used for underpainting can be as simple as smearing a thin layer of warm toned pastel upon the painting surface, or as elaborate as doing any number of wet techniques involving pastel and various liquids. Mixed-media techniques can also be utilized if the surface can withstand the procedure and products.

Many successful landscape paintings rely on the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blue of the sky. For them, it is more important to represent the overall temperature of light in the sky by substituting the glow of sunlight for an intense blue. To avoid the skies appearing like a sunrise or sunset, the warm yellow-red glow needs to be muted (grayed) in tone.

It’s About Light: From these sky observations, it is clear that the prevailing temperature of sunlight is of equal importance to the perceived blue sky. If the earth indicates a warm light, so too should the sky. No matter if you choose to use an analogous fragmentation of blue, a complementary underpainting, or an emphasis of the warmth of the sunlight, it is ultimately all about light. The sky is the lampshade and the sun is the light bulb.




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