For many artists there’s something quite seductive about a big, wide sky filled with clouds. Painting atmospheric skies is something that calls us.
We all love a clear blue summer sky, but visually, they’re just not as interesting as one that’s filled with clouds. They lack something special – big moody atmosphere!
Painting atmospheric skies on two continents
The sunsets over Istanbul are spectacular. Its the combination of the sky line and the water seem to work perfectly together to create that atmospheric sky. When in Istanbul, I can recommend a ferry ride across the Bosphorus at the end of the day. If you judge your time just right, you get to see the perfect harmony – and that’s what makes an artist want to get painting atmospheric skies.
And then there’s a sunrise sky in the United States. This painting is derived from a photograph sent to me by an athletic friend who noticed the beauty of the water and sky during his morning run in Wilmington. The first attempt to capture the serenity of the scene was in pure watercolour. This first small Wilmington painting and the view from the Bosphorus image were both done for RunningWithBrushes
The mixed media version of the image took longer – it’s had a number of laters applied to get the right textures. Its darker, and moodier, and it certainly has atmosphere. There’s a sort of ‘noir’ feeling about the final image. And despite being derived from the same photograph, they have very different feelings. Same water. Same sky. Different colours. Different textures. Very different mood.
This is the latest painting to come out of the studio: a little watercolour called Layered Landscape.
After what felt like months of grey skies and rain we finally have blue skies again. Yes, I know, England has a reputation for being grey and wet but it really isn’t as bad as it has been this winter.
I find myself looking up into the sky quite a lot these days – just enjoying the blue. I’ve noticed recently the layering of different cloud types. I’m fascinated by the three dimensional element of them as they stack up. When I had the impulse to paint a landscape in orange, blue and purple, the sky just had to featured layered clouds. This is a sky with cumulus clouds high up and altostratus clouds lower down. (For anyone interested in clouds, the Cloud Appreciation Society has a great gallery of images).
Layered landscape elements
The layering in this landscape doesn’t only occur in the clouds. The distant hills are layered, one behind the other. There’s a layer of trees and scrubby brush in the foreground through which the gentle undulations of the landscape can be seen. This is a dry land – the leaves are sparse on the trees, the branches are dry and twiggy through lack of water. Even the shadows of the trees are short under the relentless sun. The heat of this burnt land is reflected and amplified in the layer of red dust hanging in the air.
Even in a simple landscape painted with only three colours, there’s depth and complexity in the layers.
I’ve got some new themes for paintings buzzing around in my head right now – and two of the Precious Artifact series are in progress right now. I’ve got the first of my Open Studioscoming soon so I’ll be in the studio a fair amount of time over the next few weekends.
This loose watercolour painting was a wonderfully liberating loose exploration of colour. Once the composition was planned and sketched in, the palette was selected for it’s vibrance.
The foreground provides a lush fresh green canvas for the summer hogweed heads and daisies. Then the viewer is led up the footpaths into the blue distance to the farm buildings on the hill above. And beyond the farm banks of trees fade off into the distance.
Watercolour painting – the things I love
– Paint textures. Look at how the pigments have created wonderful shapes and grassy textures in the foreground of this painting.
– Soft focus – the blues in the farm buildings, combined with their imprecise edges give a sense of hazy distance
– Tonal values – the pathways that lead the eye up to the farm buildings take the viewer on a journey into the heart of the scene.
This little landscape painting is a significant milestone for me. It is my 100th painting for Running With Brushes. Yes! That feels like a big mountain – and I climbed it.
This landscape painting is a painting of two journeys.
It is a milestone on the way to the 1000 paintings goal, and there’s a journey in the painting itself as well. The gap in the fence creates a space for the viewer to step though, leaving the every-day grassy field to walk through the mist and up the pathway that leads over the hill – to who knows where.
I love putting pathways to somewhere unknown in my paintings, just to provide little glimpses of the possibilities that lie beyond. That’s the beauty of landscape painting.
The second of my watercolour sky studies. I was aiming for a very different mood in this painting. The sky study in blue has a more brooding stormy atmosphere. This painting still has storm clouds, but the pink in the sky and the more vibrant colours in the landscape element give it a warmer, less threatening feel. I’ve included more of the land element in this work which also slightly diminishes the scale of the overall image.
These watercolour landscapes were conceived two years ago on a road trip to the Umbria Jazz Festival. We drove across France and through Switzerland on our way down. One overnight stop was in a ski resort which was open for summer activities. High in the mountains we came across a lake – with the most spectacular blue water I have ever seen.
Getting to the lake from the village involved a steep walk through down through the thick forest. For much of the walk you can look down on the lake from a distance, watching sail boats and pedal boats and people relaxing around the water.
Being high in the alps, the beaches that surround the water aren’t traditional white sand. They’re dark grey – almost like volcanic sand.
Watercolour Landscapes available at Running With Brushes
Another small watercolour for Running With Brushes (I will post some larger pictures soon, I promise. I’m just heading for a milestone and then I’ll take a break from these for a while).
In this painting, I wanted to capture the feeling of being high up on a clifftop next to a copse of trees, looking down on a deserted beach. In my first draft of this painting, there were trees on both sides framing the beach below, creating a window the viewer was looking through. But that composition just didn’t really work – it was too symmetrical (and a little boring). For me this version evokes a sense of warmth with the red and yellow flowers in the foreground meadow and peace contributed by the deserted beach below.
The challenges of painting a small watercolour:
– There’s a tendency to try and cram too much information into a painting – one key message is enough.
– I sometimes have to remind myself that ‘simple is good’ so that I don’t overcomplicate a painting
– Detail isn’t always required. The eye interprets innuendo very well.
Watercolour sky studies can be enormously satisfying to paint. One of the best things about painting in watercolour is the element of happy accident – of the pigments creating their own unexpected effects. Perfect for painting loose skies.
Wonderful dramatic skies can be created using a combination of wet underpainting, with judiciously placed dry brushwork in a second layer once the first layer is properly dry.
Day two of thinking about things that make me smile and I’ve got a list filled with scents and tastes:
– Summer garden. My studio doors open out onto a courtyard garden just packed with flowering plants. It a great way place to relax through the summer months. We love it so much, we spend as much time as we can outdoors in the warm months
– France. One of my favourite countries. We try to get there at least once a year. This year it’s looking as if we may make it a couple of times. Can’t wait. (The painting features in this post is of a sunset in Provence where it looked as if the sky was on fire (photograph at the end of this post).
– Wood burning stove. We put one in this winter. It is just a joy when the weather is cold and miserable. Even the cat loves it.
– Roast chicken. A family favourite meal. It became a family favourite because Nicholas just loved it so much we could always make him smile with a roast chicken. It has to have my home made stuffing made from breadcrumbs, parley, onion, bacon and a bit of lemon juice. There’s never a complaint when a chicken is put on the table. That’s what’s on the menu for supper tonight.
– Family holidays. One of the highlights of my year will be our family holiday in August with my sister and two of her children joining us there for a week. I’m already smiling when I think of the fun and laugher we will share.