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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Painting Skies and Clouds in Watercolor

At a glance, painting blue skies for starters seem to be an impossible task. Questions like where to start, how to start and how to blend are the most common thoughts that would run in the mind of an aspiring artist who has never before tried painting skies. I share the same big question marks when I was barely starting landscape painting. Initially, I have much apprehensions because of that large area I have to work on in the paper or in canvas with a brush. I guess, the next question that comes to your mind would be the same question I had - What if drying of paint would overcome my speed of execution? Endless questions. Bottom line is the fear of trying because of what's at stake. Materials are quite expensive. Even the what you call cheap art materials are not really cheap. Not to mention the frustration of not achieving what you expect on the first try. That can be very demotivating. But believe me, most artists had to try several times by doing studies of their chosen subjects.  Lucky are those in this generation as they have several avenues to take in the research  of the different  tips and techniques available both in print and the net. Artists from all walks of life had already done their studies ahead of this generation. With the availability of tutorial references around you, you could start banking on with patience. That's all there is to it. Lots of patience. Most often, several attempts are necessary before achieving the desired results. Practice always makes it perfect.

To start off, know what art medium you want to use. Different mediums have different approach to painting execution. For instance, painting with the use of watercolor as an  art medium is different with how you would with oil or acrylic paint or any art paint for that matter as they all have different properties. Therefore, each medium should be treated differently.


The most common technique used in watercolor is the flatwash. This technique is usually used to cover large areas in the surface. Another application that is useful in painting blue skies  is the graded wash and  wet-in-wet technique.


I. Graded Sky

Flat and graded wash technique is useful on a clear sky with a few clouds.

1. Sketch your horizon based on your landscape subject. What separates the land from the sky? Does your horizon lined with mountains or trees? Or a sea? You have to make sure that whatever you see must be already plotted accordingly on your paper.

2. Prepare your other working materials. Since you are working on with the use of a watercolor, everything must be within reach for easy access. Don't forget to have a roll of toilet paper for dabbing your brush to remove excess water from it. A water filled container for cleaning your brush is likewise necessary. Also, prepare your paint mixture ahead of time.

3. With the flatwash technique, wet the area by applying water on the surface of your paper.

4. Mix more than enough of the needed color in your palette. Your mixture of that color should depend on what type of color it is you see on your subject. Mixture should be as nearest to the the color  as you see it. This is important because the color of the sky depends on the time of day and weather. You see a vibrant blue on a perfect day and a darker blue on a rainy day.

5. Observe your subject. Tilt the paper and start the application with a flat wash.  On the part where you notice the transition from darker hue  to light, start using the graded wash technique by diluting your color mixture with ample amount of water as you bring down your application nearer the horizon. Add more water to the mixture to lighten it. If you are not satisfied with your initial application, you may have to wait for the paint to dry up a bit and repeat the process. Before reapplying, make sure that the surface is just about to  dry otherwise your application may run down on its own. You may, again, repeat the process as you deem fit.

II. Using wet-in- wet technique on clouds

6. If you think you are ready to put in the clouds, on the somewhat wet area, blend in the white mixture on the surface where the clouds should be at. Blend the white mixture on some previously applied blue the way it should be. I would use a cotton ball with pure  white paint  and slightly dab it on the surface to make the result more realistic. You can repeat doing this until satisfied. This part need not be as exactly the way you see on your subject model. Clouds are not static because the wind up there changes its appearance. The objective here is just to arrange the clouds as realistically as you can. 


You'll know the sky is variegated when you see other colors especially in sunrise and sunset settings. Flat and graded wash won't work in this situation unless it's calm or still. In situation where there are lots of motion going on up there, the wet-in-wet technique is most useful and convenient.

1. Observe your subject model. Take note of the different hues of each color you see. Know how many colors you need to prepare. Notice the arrangement of the clouds. Know when you are ready.

2. Create the almost exact  mixture of paints that cover the large area of your subject. Prepare the other color mixture  as well.  Dampen your paper evenly  with clean water.

3. Start applying the paint mixture that dominates the sky with horizontal strokes bringing it down depending on how far it should go until the transition should take place.

4. In transitioning, blend in the next color mixture while previous application is wet. Continue with your strokes until it brings you to the next color. With a clean brush blend in  the next  mixture of colors  well especially on parts that should have a smooth transition, that is  if you want to depict a calm or still sky.

5. For clouds depicting motion, you may use a cotton ball instead of your brush in blending the colors. Dab it lightly on the surface to avoid abrupt smudges as this might make your painting look dirty.

6. Correct abrupt color transition by going over to that area with the mixture of paint you are last working on.


  1. You have very good descriptions on how to paint! It almost makes me feel like I could try - but I can't even draw stick figures lol. I'm so jealous of people with such talent!


    Visiting from voiceBoks!

  2. OMG, reading thru your post makes me wanna grab my son's tub of watercolors and start made it appear really easy...

    thanks for stopping by Mom from Manila...hope to see you again there!

  3. This is so informative! Great job!
    Cheers from VoiceBoks,

  4. Very well done! I am an oil painter and always looking to learn more. Thanks....and thanks for visiting my blog.Sandra

  5. That's awesome!! I wish could paint. Sounds fun!!
    I'm a new follower from Voiceboks!
    Ro :)
    Have YOU had your mom-ME Moment yet today?

  6. I am full of envy for you have talent. Eyes for colours and stuffs like that

    Thanks for accepting my request for friendship in VB

    Have a nice day!


  7. This is great. I love your artwork and the interpretation of the sky and the heavens; just beautiful. Glad to reconnect with you on voiceBoks. Hope to continue the virtual friendship.
    Have a good rest of the week,
    EspaƱol para NiƱos (Spanish for Kids)