A Landscape Artist Knows How Important These “Secrets” Are!
Think of Turner’s skies or even Monet’s—they are multifaceted and carry the hum of several colors. The sky is rarely blue–or rarely just blue (except for a few lucky places in the world!). As many of us transition to landscape painting during the summer season, we can sometimes make assumptions and take certain things for granted like the color of sky or clouds, perhaps because we may see our subjects primarily in photographs, or maybe because habits form over the winter and we forget what a variety of color lives in the landscape.
When it comes time for me to paint with an aerial perspective, I think of Georges Seurat’s paintings. This may be an extreme example, but for me his work demonstrates an awareness of the prevalence of color, especially in the sky. Thinking of his pointillist dots helps me remember that color is everywhere. In the spirit of this, I pulled together a few tips on painting the sky to help stave off the “blue syndrome.”
Build up the sky with various tints and tones, and not just blue ones. Really look at the sky and see what colors are there. A rainy day can often have gray, green, and even yellow tinges to it. A sunset is often much darker than I usually paint it the first time, and can contain all kinds of deep reds, pinks, yellows, and purples.
Don’t paint the brightness of the sky alone—paint the shadows in it to give a sense of space and depth. The more moisture in the air, the more reflections—and, as a result, the more color—you will find. Even when the sky is clear there is a sense of depth perception to our field of vision. In every case, question how that occurs and try to accentuate it.
Clouds reflect the light in the sky. Even on a picture perfect day, when clouds look white and the sky looks blue, don’t reach for blue and white alone. They can make a painting look flat and clichéd. Experiment with the colors you perceive in reflections and the light to add depth and greater realism.
Adding texture to the painting surface can give an entirely different sense of atmosphere than you can get by manipulating paint color. Experiment with thick and thin strokes of paint and new mediums for surprising results.
The sky tends to lighten toward the horizon. Be mindful of this as you are painting because this alone can help create a more convincing landscape painting.
I want to hear your tips for painting the sky too, so send them to me—along with any other techniques you have for creating great landscape paintings in the studio—by leaving a comment below. For more great instruction on creating compelling landscape paintings, seriously consider signing up for the upcoming Paint Along 35 with Johannes Vloothuis on Creating Depth with Atmosphere. You’ll get the opportunity to master landscape painting in a variety of media, all the while in the convenient setting of your own home–looking over the shoulder of your instructor via your computer. Enjoy!