Probably one of the most important things to learn in order to paint captivating skies is the value of observation. Just from watching a sky you learn an awful lot and that will be of great use later on when you try to paint it.
Certainly, being the source of light, skies are an ever-present bonanza for the watercolorist whose fresh transparent washes over white paper are the closest approximation in visual art to the glory of light. The essence of sky is transparency. You look through it into infinity.
Although it's difficult to go wrong during the first wash, a sky is the most dangerous area to go back into after it is dry. You certainly do not want to introduce any opacity or different edges often cause by partial washes.
Clouds make or break the sky and cumulus clouds are likely the most difficult because they are constantly boiling and puffing. To the casual observer, the edges may appear sharp. They are not. Their edges must be treated so they look soft and the highlight must be kept inside the soft edge. As with other design elements (e.g. rocks, trees, etc), put the larger objects in the front to create the feeling of distance. When you have variety in size and larger shapes forward you achieve nicer design.
Cumulus clouds also have holes and caves which is somewhat similar to foliage. Notice how distant cumulus are smaller and have flatter bottoms.
The distant sky is colder and it keys into the clouds. Always have one area of interest in the sky - one place that is more aggressive. It's suggested that you exaggerate the cools and warm colours under the clouds and that this be done on wet paper. An occasional hard edge will add variety and interest.
You should keep the texture to the inside of the cloud and not in the sky. Work on achieving subtle colour varieties in the cloud and sky.
Other cloud formations and cloud types to be explored on another day include
- Stratus - Wispy light clouds
- Dramatic – rain clouds - thunderheads
- Back lit clouds - sunsets
Start looking up to the sky and observe cloud formations. Take photos of clouds and you will be amazed at what you will start to “see”!
You might be interested in a companion article about skies in my other blog.