Heavens Above

When I have a camera in hand, I love taking pictures of clouds, so it is any wonder that I would also enjoy painting them?

Here’s one of my cloud photos, taken from our front porch last summer as a heavy thunderstorm moved in:

Storm Clouds

Earlier, I posted a series of paintings — watercolor and pastels — of clouds, and my love for painting the skies has continued. Now, instead of focusing so much on the clouds, I’m turning my attention to the heavens, hoping to capture some of the light, some of the colors, some of the many moods we see when we look up.

By practicing this way, I hope when I do complete landscapes, I’ll be able to always create interesting skies that add to the painting.

A calm, quiet sky on a spring morning.
A calm, quiet sky on a spring morning.

To create these skies, I used this palette:

  • Alizarin crimson
  • Lemon yellow
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Payne’s Grey

First, I painted a very light, very calm and quiet sky. I used  pale washes of colors, and tried to create a slight gradation. The sky, I’ve learned is lighter at the horizon.

Sky 1Next, I wanted a few more clouds in the sky. I wanted a bit more color, as well. I used light washes again, then “dabbed out” the clouds with tissue.

I’d still like to make my blue skies more colorful, so that’s something I’ll be practicing on. Instead of cerulean blue, I might try ultramarine. I want to work on creating more variety in the shapes of the clouds, too.


Storm Clouds BrewingIt’s been raining here in the Midwest quite a bit lately, so next I grabbed the gray to create a more ominous sky. Instead of blue, this sky’s colors are burnt sienna and — toward the bottom — a pale lemon yellow.

I created the clouds in two layers and then dabbed out highlights. I’m still not satisfied with them, but that’s what practicing is all about.

Sunset Sky


Next, I created a sunset sky, although I’m not happy with how it turned out. My brush strokes were a little too heavy, and the alizarin crimson left a “streaky” effect — which was not the sort of “streaks” I wanted in the painting.

I used a tissue-wrapped coin to create the sun, but then it became almost obliterated by the paint. It was a fun painting to create, but I’m not pleased with it.

Again, that’s what practice is for, right?

Finally, before I put my paints away, I had to try re-creating my storm cloud photo. Using lots of Payne’s Grey — and a little raw umber — I let the color mingle with a bit of water on the paper. I wasn’t able to accurately depict all the cloud formations, but I tried to come up with shapes that resembled the original.

Watercolor Storm Clouds

While it’s not really all that close to my reference photo, I did enjoy doing this painting, and I think I learned a lot from it. With continued practice, I also feel confident that I can paint skies in the landscapes I do, and that I can use them to add many different moods and emotions — from the serenity of a clear blue sky to the ominous threat of storm clouds scuttling across the horizon.

All in all, I enjoyed my painting practice today. I truly thank the heavens above for all the inspiration.


      1. LOL, yeah. I’ve been working on acrylics this morning, and I’m having problems with either (a) the paint drying too quickly, or (b) the paint not drying quickly enough. I know, that makes no sense. What’s happening is that it dries too fast on my palette, but doesn’t seem to dry very fast on the canvas (it’s humid here today, and I think that makes a difference). I keep needing to mix more paint, and my colors are getting splotchy. I should have this first painting finished in a couple of days and I’ll post it then so you can see it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Do you keep a spray bottle handy for the palette and a blow dryer for the canvas? I remember the art Sherpa mentioning that if you are having problems. I’m so much help right? Giggle. You are like….duh!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I didn’t realize until last night that I could use a spray bottle to keep acrylics wet — duh 🙂 I tried it today, but I waited a little too long and the paint got too dry. And yeah, I’ve got the hair-dryer in the kitchen now LOL, but no, I never thought of using it. Duh. LOL On the good side, my husband looked at the table last night (I’d cleaned it up, but then got all my paints out again) and said, “You know, I really like it when you have your paints on the table. It looks like something is happening.” Gotta love a guy like that, right?

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      4. Lolol. My husband told me he likes to watch me paint yesterday….as he is eating yet another sandwich. I’m glad you discovered your spray bottle. I hope it makes your life easier dirty paint on the table lady.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yeah, I have my spray bottle handy now. I just finished an abstract in acrylics. As soon as it’s completely dry I’ll try to scan it and put it in a post for later in the week. I’m actually happy with it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. These are watercolor clouds…haven’t attempted acrylic ones yet. I’m still working on my first acrylic painting — other than my shadowy black and white “study”. Oh, I did take a picture of the outside of the old van to show the progress my husband is making on the rust spots. I’m going to update my original “van” post to add the photo. I haven’t got the hang of acrylics yet…so I’m going to need a lot more practice before I’m ready to tackle the van project.

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  1. Judith! Wow times a hundred, lady! I LOVE your skies! The last one is wonderful and so is the third painting from the top! Seriously, I’m impressed. WC skies are NOT easy and you are doing GREAT! I had to keep looking at that last image, because I thought you’d posted another photo at the end! Well done!! One thing I’ve learned (and you may totally reject this, but it’s my take) is to use sky photos as suggestions for skies. In other words, be happy you have a believable sky vs. being disappointed that your painting isn’t just like the photo. I think your last painting is a stunner. I may be just as thrilled with the tree shapes as I am with the clouds! Yes. Keep doing these, you are great at this!! My .02

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I really do enjoy doing skies. There are so many different ways to paint them, so many different colors, so many different moods an artist can create. Now, I just have to learn to do the rest of a landscape LOL. I’m working a lot on trees now. I wish they were as easy for me as skies are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why, thank you! I’m learning more about using different brushes, different sizes, and more of a “stippling” technique. Mostly I have to remind myself that I’m not “drawing leaves” but creating an illusion. Stepping back helps me a lot with that.

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      2. For the leaves, yeah. I used a round brush turned a bit sideways and dabbed the leaves onto the lines for the branches. That’s for the tree on the left. On the right, I think I used a filbert brush.

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  2. You could go forever doing sky paintings because they will all be so different and what a wonderful way to learn watercolor and see how it reacts. I think once you let go the expectation that you have to match up your painting to your reference photo, the happier you will be. I am still learning this. After all, isn’t this what art is all about? Expression? anyway I think that you are flying with these and I can “hear” in what you wrote that you finding your way. Oh I forgot to mention that I love your paintings! sorry…..I got carried away. Do more of them!

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    1. Thank you so much! The skies are always a source of inspiration for me. I spend a lot of time looking at the sky, watching birds and clouds. I do love painting them. I just hope someday I can add “the rest” of a landscape to my painting LOL. I’m practicing on trees now. They’re getting better, but they’re still a challenge for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Finding a subject that you can build your skills and confidence on will bring it to the point that you’ll tackle other subjects. I see it like piecing a puzzle, a bit by bit. Trees are hard! I should know, man…..they can be a bugger. 🙂 Slowly but surely you will get there.

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      2. For me, it’s very important to get an understanding of what’s “not working” with something I’m trying to draw or paint. Once I know what’s missing or what I need to do differently, I can gradually build the techniques. I love trees, but for me, learning to draw them accurately has been a challenge. Sometimes I try to work on little “pieces” — just doing a branch or doing a bit of the trunk — and that seems to help. Once I can paint trees that I’m happy with, I think I’ll really like landscape painting.

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      3. This is a great idea, Judith. I should try this. I love trees too. Last fall I was doing a leaf challenge and people started calling me the queen of autumn or something like that lol. I could manage a leaf and could probably do an acorn but I totally agree that a whole tree can be overwhelming. I do think it’s just a technique and practice and not trying to be too attached to the reference image. Your skies are tremendous. Not easy! Impressive.


      4. For me, the big problem is getting “enough” branches — not too many, not too few. I understand how trees grow and how the branches get smaller, but I can’t get the right effects when I draw limbs and branches. I think mine usually get too thin, too soon, so then everything looks out of proportion. I did a tree yesterday — you’ll see it in a post coming up in a couple of days — and I can see that I’m getting better, but it’s still going to take a lot more practice. I think later today I’m going to work on one limb, studying how it branches out, how it develops then into smaller branches and little twigs at the end.

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      1. Ah, I was wondering, re read your post to see if you said what it was, then I assumed acrylics since you were experimenting with them. Good skies with watercolor take some doing, so I think you should feel really good about these!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you! I’m playing around with acrylics, and still practicing with watercolors, too. I just love creating skies with different colors and different cloud formations. No matter how many I do, I still want to do more. I’m glad you liked them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your very positive attitude and outlook on things Judith. You remind me of my father. I love your practice paintings and also love the story behind each piece. One small step a day really helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. You know, if we just learn one thing or improve one little thing a day…imagine how far we can go in a relatively short time. 🙂 Which reminds me…my first one-year “anniversary” of drawing is coming up next week, so I hope you’ll visit the blog and celebrate with me. 🙂

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