Portrait of a Painting

In this study of fluffy, cumulus clouds, I want to talk about the relationship of colors and how they change in the landscape. On a sunny day the sky changes from a cooler, darker blue at the very “top” of the sky in your painting, to a warmer, lighter blue as it approaches the horizon. The colors you use in the sky will be determined by where you are: the sky in Tuscany is a far different color than in America’s Pacific Northwest, and different still from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here in the Seattle area our sky colors are influenced by a marine climate in a northern latitude, tending to the very cool palette.

I began at the top where I mixed several different values, all a combination of French Ultramarine blue and Titanium White. These function as the darker/ cooler blues for the top section of the sky. In addition, a series of lighter values mixed from Pthalo blue and Titanium White were prepared to represent the lighter / warmer blues of the sky as it nears the horizon at the bottom of the painting.

Using a soft, rounded filbert brush, I covered the entire canvas with the blues. Concentrate on blending together and transitioning from the darkest, coolest blue to the warmest, lightest blue. The color transitions have to be seamlessly blended and change very gradually or you will end up with “stripes” in your sky. The transitional areas develop a lovely “flicker” between warm blue and cool blue.

When it was dry I painted the clouds over the top. Have you noticed that on a sunny day the clouds move across the sky as a separate element, and are not actually embedded? They animate the sky and tell you if it is still or windy, and what time of day it is. Cumulus clouds are a series of overlapping groups. They have fluffy, rounded tops and appear flatter at the bottom. The various conditions and wind will soften the cloud shapes or draw them out so that they are not ever exactly flat. They are really a series of interlocking shapes defined by light shapes over darker gray areas. The groups of clouds get smaller and closer together as they approach the horizon. On a misty, rainy day the clouds are much closer to us. In fact we are sometimes inside the cloud, surrounded by the moisture. On those days I would paint the clouds and sky directly at the same time for a very soft and indistinct feeling.

The colors I am using for the clouds are:
1. Titanium White
2. A mix of Titanium White and Windsor Newton blue-black, in 2 values.

The middle value is modified for warm and cool by adding:
1. A hint of Naples Yellow to warm it
2.    A hint of Ultramarine blue and Alizarin Crimson to cool it.

When the painted clouds dry, there is a very lavender feeling to the colors at the top as they react over the cool sky colors. In the bottom section, which is over a warm pthalo blue, they are more yellow.  The cloud colors “cool down” as I move up the canvas with the same colors and go over the Ultramarine areas. Some of the edges of the clouds are softened to make them wispy and in-distinct so that they do not look pasted on.

I have included some other sky studies. These are all more atmospheric, softer studies.

Note that sunrises and sunsets are very difficult to paint without looking “fake” because of the strong, dramatic colors.

It is good to try a variety sky techniques and color themes before you approach a painting with many other elements such as landforms or people.  Skies are complex enough in themselves! The sky paintings below were developed by my fellow painters Nadia Hakki (Blue / gray sky) and Michiko Pentz (Lavendar Morning sky)

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