Sunday, January 24, 2010

BAC Watercolours, Lesson 2 - Skies and Clouds

Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine are provided in most ready-made painting kits. Cerulean is such a satisfying and convincing sky-blue that new painters tend to go through tubes of it. An experienced painter can make a single tube last much longer, even years, and still achieve rich tones and glowing transparency. Antwerp Blue is a sweet light blue, like Cerulean, but more intense and better for glazing over pastel tones. Cobalt Blue is another excellent sky colour. Payne’s Gray is a blue that shades to gray tones and makes good stormy skies.

The analytical approach to clouds is to draw their shapes first then paint cautiously, nudging sky colour toward the cloud edges. This lesson’s approach is freer and more immediately gratifying, and is only an introduction to the possibilities of sky-scapes.


1. We know this works better with 100% cotton paper! Have ready a good supply of paper towel or tissues. Prepare three separate washes in the palette: A yellow (Yellow Ochre or Cadmium Yellow), a blue (Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine or Antwerp Blue) and a gray (Payne's Gray or Neutral Tint).

2. On pre-stretched paper (optional, but so much better to work with) apply a light wash of yellow to the sky area. Let it dry.

3. Again pre-wetting the sky area, apply a wash of blue. Have your tissue ready and while the blue wash is still wet and fresh, "lift" the paint by dabbing, turning the tissue frequently to produce clean, fluffy clouds.

4. While the paper is still damp, you can apply a yellow or some Cadmium Red to to the tops of the clouds and gray or neutral tint for shadows along the lower edges, leaving a little white at the bottom.

Another approach is "negative thinking”, or laying down sky colours on thoroughly wetted paper while leaving open spaces for the clouds. The moisture on the page will drag the sky colour into the open spaces and create produce soft cirrus-cloud effects. Tissue can be used here too, to correct or redefine cloud shapes if desired.

For a rosy sky, the first wash of colour could be Cadmium Red. The possibilities exceed the scope of one lesson, and there is so much to cover. We have begun with skies and backgrounds as the logical starting point, the backdrops to the stage set of any painting or landscape, and will shortly move on to still lifes and perceived depth of field. But for now, back to those skies.....

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace…"

(John Gillespie Magee, 1922-41, High Flight )

1 comment:

  1. I like your handling of the clouds, Frances - and know it's not as easy as you make it look! Bfn. Lesley