Albert Handell | Using Pastel to Create Dramatic Skies

The sky is responsible for much of the drama in a landscape. In the August 2011 issue of The Pastel Journal, master pastelist Albert Handell outlines some key considerations for handling composition, color and cloud control in order to make the most of this key landscape component. In this gallery of pastel landscape paintings, Handell describes the approaches he took to each.

A Blustery Moment (pastel, 11 x 15)


Here, the tree and sky are inseparable. This gets tricky. The only element not moving is the tree, so I start by placing the tree where I want it in the composition. I then paint the tree, and only lightly suggest the sky for I know when I start dealing with the sky it will be entirely different. The top two-thirds of the tree is basically a silhouette in front of the sky, so it is dark in color. That was the clearest and thusly easiest part to paint so I pastel it first. That was very important for later I related the colors of the sky and clouds to the dark silhouette of the tree. This then allowed me to focus in on the movement and different colors of the sky. Also, notice that the movement of the clouds from upper left to lower right helps create a sense of looking up.

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Drifting Clouds (mixed media, 10 x 14)


These drifting clouds—which were anything but still—just grabbed me. Where to start? I covered the surface immediately using watercolor. I used Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue and a bit of reddish purple. The watercolors all flowed into each other and dried quickly. I then painted using pastel. I picked out a grey for the clouds that was the same value as the blue of the sky. (Notice the top dark greys of the clouds at the top of the pastel). Then I picked out the pastel blues that were to go over the watercolor washes and I went from there. This is another example of a sky painting that took an hour or less to paint. Are you getting the idea that when painting these skies from life they are quickly painted?

Free Download! 4 Lessons on Creating Luminous Landscape Paintings

Suddenly (mixed media painting by Albert Handell)

Suddenly (mixed media, 10 x 14)


This painting depicts a storm that blew up from nowhere while I was visiting and painting in Palm Springs, California. I dropped everything and started anew—just painting as fast and as well as I could. Notice the vibrancy of that sky. Also realize that the different colors that make up the sky are very close in value and have faint or no edges. Notice how the colors of the sky also affect the colors of the ground plane, which is the complete foreground, giving the entire pastel an overall color harmony. This was painted within 45 minutes.

Morning Light (watercolor and pastel painting by Albert Handell)

Morning Light (watercolor and pastel, 16 x 17)


Here we have a high horizon (the top of the rocks). The painting is basically about the rock formations and the area for the sky is approximately one-seventh of the composition, and is behind the mountain. It’s also a small shape and makes up the negative area of the pastel. The colors of the sky are a combination of a rich Ultramarine Blue plus a cool mauve. Both colors are identical in value. As I apply both colors a vibrant effect is established. Also part of the sky on the viewer’s left starts drifting into the rock formation, helping to tie in both areas and adding atmosphere to the pastel.

Here are a few more paintings by Albert Handell to enjoy.

Evening Light at the Taos Crevice (pastel landscape painting by Albert Handell)

Evening Light at the Taos Crevice (pastel 12 x 18) 

Fall Splendor (pastel landscape painting by Albert Handell)

Fall Splendor (pastel 16 x 20) 

Free Download! 4 Lessons on Creating Luminous Landscape Paintings


Albert Handell Pastel Demonstration: Falling Water

Albert Handell Shares Insights for Painting Water in Pastel


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