“Once you have tasted the taste of the sky, you’ll forever look up.” — Leonardo Da Vinci
Are you a cloud gazer who enjoys looking up at the sky, curious to see what familiar shapes and images might form?
It can be exciting to see a shape emerge as the wind currents blow through the moisture in the clouds: a dog, a cat, an angel, maybe a shape like a heart.
Why do the colors of the sky and clouds vary so much?
During the seventeen years I lived in Hawaii, I noticed the penetrating blue skies were often filtered with a hint of aqua blue-green. On any given day, the skies appeared so vivid with a few scattered lofty, low lying, and billowy white clouds floating by.
The closer we get to the equator, the more luminous sky blue palettes become.
I now live in the Pacific Northwest and at times the sky can offer the same vibrant hues as the tropics. On really sunny days, the blues are quite striking when the clouds are dissolved and a true sky blue emerges.
Here at latitude 47, a great percentage of the time the blues are lighter and duller mixed with shades of grey due to all the moisture that is filtering the light. The elevation of the clouds is much higher moving with the air currents.
No matter where a person lives, the sky can offer an artist a relationship that forever changes.
Creating Harmony When Painting the Sky
Essentially, the artist will paint three different types of skies:
- All blue skies
- Gray and cloudy skies
- Mixed blue and cloudy skies
Winsor Blue (aka as Phalo Blue) and maybe a touch of Ultramarine Blue are the foundation blue hues that you’ll adjust to match your image.
On a bright sunny day, you’ll start with Winsor Blue, then add a bit of white and a touch of orange. This mix is traditionally known as sky blue. Depending on the angle the light is filtering through, you might add just a touch of Ultramarine Blue to deepen the color to match your scrap image or a bit more white if your sky is lighter.
At the bottom of all blue skies next to the horizon, you’ll notice the light softens and changes where the sky meets the earth. Adding a touch of blended Yellow Ochre will create the perfect illusion to define where the background fades and the middle ground comes forward.
Cloudy skies start by first creating a gradation of gray at 20, 30, and 60 percent by blending white and ivory black. Then you’ll either warm up or cool down the percentage of grey that is closest to your scrap image by adding Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, or Alizarin Crimson.
If you are painting dark clouds you’ll add a bit of either Raw Sienna or Burnt Umber to Ultramarine Blue as shown in the small swatches on the illustration.
Your medium and desired effect will determine how you apply the paint.
Mixed Blue and Cloudy Skies
With mixed skies, you essentially combine the hues for blue and cloudy skies. What’s wonderful about the Double Primary Palette is you have paint wells ready to go with the percentages of grey making it easy to mix the cloud preferences.
Additional Tips for Painting Watercolor Skies
The image above provides all the reference details you’ll need for any type of sky. The smaller swatches illustrate the different mixes depending on the darkness of your clouds. No matter what medium you use, even digital, the specified color blends will work well.
When using watercolors for painting skies, control the water’s edges by ensuring you don’t allow the edges to dry. Remember you start light and build toward the darker areas.
When adding clouds, you can create little dribbles that move upward. Keep applying little dabs of your mixed colors to get the variety of cloud colors you are seeking.
Always note your light source so you can keep the darkest areas of the clouds balanced. A square tip brush works well to pick up color. Tissues are handy when you need to blot out a bit of color to leave some white spaces.
Since all your color mixes contain various amounts of red, yellow, and blue, your painting, including your skies, can achieve color harmony.
In my next post in this series, I’ll cover how to build a foundation for your background plus I’ll share how to paint mountains. If you would like a notice when I publish the next post, feel free to subscribe to my blog by entering your information below, and remember to keep looking up. 😎
To read previous posts in how to set up your painting palette visit, the Art & Design Table of Contents.