Loose and Fanciful Skies
Loose and Fanciful Skies with former SAA President Margaret Evans
As tradition would have it, you’d expect me to do this exercise in pastels, so I’m not going to disappoint you although this is an exercise that I often get my students to try in watercolour. It is so free, and lends itself to imagination and exaggeration taking over the often overwhelming habit of ‘copying’ what you see.
With most good skies, if you can pull it off and get a dramatic eye-catching one, it can take up virtually three quarters of your picture area, and allow you to get away with very little detail on the land. In fact a simple silhouette of land will leave something to the viewers’ imagination, and avoid detracting from the impact of your sky.
The other tradition I am breaking here, is to start by sketching in, as I usually do. Without any drawn structure, this avoids any chance of restricting your application of colours and creation of shapes. This technique is ideal for the new Pan Pastels that are capturing everyone’s imagination right now. If you don’t have any, simply use the sides of big chunky pastels which will give lovely broad marks, similar to painting with a large flat brush. I have used a sketch I did in watercolour on one of my recent visits to the Isle of Skye – the evening sunsets were magnificent and need only a simple outline of land to create the feeling of distance
The original sketch is watercolour, painted quickly indoors by memory after watching a particularly startling sunset one evening. The colours are not exact, but exaggerated to create impact, and applied liberally with wet-into-wet freedom, and I have used a little crofter’s cottage to silhouette against it, for simplicity.
Using just Pan Pastels on Art Spectrum’s Aubergine coloured paper, the colours can be applied at random, allowing them to mix on top of each other, just like in watercolour. This is pure colour, applied with sponges, creating an instant painterly effect which needs no rubbing in, and covers the paper instantly.
Further colours are built on top, and start giving more subtle blends as the colours mix together. The edges are all soft and slightly out-of-focus, leaving a delicate feel to the painting, which is still free from any drawing details. At this stage, it is easy to move shapes around and change composition and/or colours if you don’t like them.
Any harsh colours are gently blended into neighbouring colours to diffuse any shapes that are appearing, then we are ready for positioning the cottage.
Using hard pastels, such as Faber Castell’s Polychromos, the simple silhouette of the cottage is added, using some of the smaller sponge shapes to apply some matching colours from the sky. This helps the cottage to merge into the composition, and a few ‘punctuation’ marks such as posts, fences and bushes are added to suggest detail.
All in all, this exercise took no longer than 20 minutes and is ideal for learning to apply colours freely, and see how they blend together to create new colour mixes. As with any other medium, be careful not to continually apply too many colours, or you will make ‘mud’ – and we’ve all done that before!
Most of us are born ‘fiddlers’ and try to paint exactly what we see, and copy nature with painstaking detail. This exercise will hopefully help you to loosen up and enjoy just applying colour for colour’s sake, being vibrant, and using the imagination!
From Photograph to Painting with Matthew Palmer
The Italian Job with Malcolm Cudmore
Spring Fervour with David Hyde
Market Day in Brittany with Marilyn Allis
Cromford Canal with Matthew Palmer
Portraits in Pastel Pencils with Heather Jolliffe
A Passion for Watercolour Painting