Painting Demo: Use Lifting to Create a Dramatic Sky

Here’s a little taste of what you’ll find inside Watercolor Tricks & Techniques: 75 New and Classic Painting Secrets Revised and Expanded, by veteran North Light Books artist and art instructor Cathy Johnson.


Use Lifting to Create a Dramatic Sky

The effects of lifting with a sponge or eraser can be understated or bold. For this painting demonstration, everything works together to capture a feeling of peace and space, keeping things very subtle throughout.


What You’ll Need

Watercolor Pigments

Burnt Sienna

Cadmium Orange

Quinacridone Red

Ultramarine Blue


1/2-inch ((13mm) and 1-inch 25mm)


no. 8 round


140-lb. (300gsm) cold-pressed

watercolor paper


Natural and manmade sponges



1 Establish the Design and Paint the Sky

Sketch in the shape of the mountains, then lay in wet-in-wet washes of Ultramarine Blue mixed with Burnt Sienna to suggest the clouds, painting right down over the distant peaks with your 1-inch (25mm) flat. Use Cadmium Orange and Quinacridone Red in the warm areas of the mountaintops. Let dry.


2 Paint the Mountains

Add a light wash of UltramarineBlue and Burnt Sienna from the distant mountains right to the bottom of the page. I wanted the mountains on the left to look as though the clouds partly obscured them, so I softened that edge while it was still wet, using clear water on a round brush. Before the wash dries completely, lift the lighter orange spot in the far mountain pass with a damp sponge to show where the last light of the day struck the mountain. Let dry.


3 Continue Mountain Glazes

Add two progressively darker glazes to the mountains with the same colors as in step 2, letting each glaze dry before adding the next. Paint quickly and lightly so you don’t disturb the underwash. Let dry. Don’t worry about the hard edges or any “flowers” that form at the bottom because these will be covered with subsequent washes. The 1/2-inch (13mm) flat offers control and crisp edges.


Add Perspective and Texture to the Mountain Range

Paint still darker glazes over the layers of the mountains. As the washes lose their shine, drop in clear water with a round brush and a bit of Cadmium Orange and Burnt Sienna mixed in. Work fast! The wetter wash of warm color will push back the cool, sedimenting wash and suggest lighter trees. Go even darker on the foreground mountain, dropping the watered-down mix into this area too, as well as scratching, scraping, and using your fingertips to pat into the damp wash to suggest those thickly forested slopes.


Rework the Sky

Use a manmade or natural sponge and clear water to soften the edges of some of the clouds, lifting a bit more light in the upper sky, and suggesting a cloud obscuring the mountain on the right. Blot quickly, but don’t scrub hard enough to lift back to a truly light value—just enough for softness and subtlety.


You may also like these articles: