Oh, Beautiful, for Spacious Skies

We sing those words often here in America.

I think of these words often, too, as I’m working at my easel. I love this beautiful land for its spacious skies, for its amber waves of grain, and for the majesty of its purple mountains as well as its fruited plains.

Now, if only I could paint the beauty I see!

During the last few days, I’ve turned my attention to the skies again. I’ve always loved painting skies and clouds, and over the last three years I’ve learned a lot of different techniques. I think my skies are getting better.

One of my current painting projects features a golden sunset. I’m not sure how the rest of the painting will turn out, but so far, I’m loving my skies. Here’s a look at how the skies have progressed.

I started with a large canvas (this is actually a stretched canvas, unlike the panels I usually use) and toned it first with an orange acrylic. I then applied a thin coat of titanium white and quickly added in touches of yellow and orange.

Sky 1 (2)
Laying in the oranges and yellows over white.

As you can see, I’ve also covered the rest of the canvas with the orange/yellow paint. Even though I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in the middle ground or foreground, I wanted to have that color there as an underpainting.

I’ll admit to falling in love with this sky a little bit as I moved on to the next step in my process. I used titanium white tinged with just the slightest violet, then brushed in bright, fluffy clouds across the sky.

Sky 2 (2)
I’ve added titanium white clouds tinged with a slight violet hue.

When it came time to work on this again, I held my breath, then added a little more violet to the original white/violet cloud mix.

Sky 3 (3)
A touch more violet has gone into the mix now.

This morning I’ve added a bit more violet to my clouds. For now, I’m calling this “golden sunset” sky complete.

Spacious Skies - Tuesday (3)
You might not see much difference, but I added a bit more violet.

Please note that in taking these photos each day, it’s been impossible to get the exact same angle and lighting, but I hope you can see how the painting has progressed from its inception.

What will happen with this painting now?

I’m still not certain what this will be. Most likely I’ll add distant hills and grassy fields. I’ll be letting it rest for a day since I’ll be away from my easel tomorrow. I might make a few thumbnail sketches to give myself an idea of what I want to do with this.

No matter how it turns out, though, I’m very pleased with the lovely, spacious skies I’ve created in this painting. Painting skies is probably what I enjoy most in the landscapes I do.

Here are a few other clouded sky paintings I currently have on my easel as I explore different techniques and different colors.

#1 – Red and blue skies with green-tinged clouds

Red and Blue with Green

Yes, I’ll agree… the clouds are much too green at this point. My plan is to create the next layer with titanium white, letting the green fall into shadowed areas. As I work forward in the painting, I’ll probably try to incorporate some of the pthalo green into the foreground area, even though I’m not sure what will be there. Most likely I’ll do a bit of water in the foreground — one of the reasons I’ve underpainted it with blue.

UPDATE: Here’s how it’s looking now with the first layer of white clouds. I’ll be adding more clouds soon.

Sky 2

#2 – Violet and yellow skies with orange-tinged clouds

Violet and Yellow with Orange

When I decided to try these colors, I was sure I would hate them. Turns out, though, I’m actually liking this combination. I’ll be adding a bit more orange and white clouds in coming days. What will the scene be? No idea yet, but I’m sure having fun with the skies.

UPDATE: Here’s the latest version of this odd color combination:

Sky 3

#3 – Red and green skies (bluish clouds will be added later)

Red and Green with Blue

This is a very bad photo of still-wet paint with a horrible shadow in the lower right. This was a bit of a dare to myself. Could I really create a sky using red and green as the base colors? I wanted to try. Obviously I opted for more rosy red than green, and once this dries and I begin work on it again, I’ll use a very pale blue to create fluffy cloud formations.

UPDATE: I’m really liking this one.

Sky 1


#4 Orange and purple skies.

Another Spacious Sky

I think this one is going to be very dramatic. I’m not sure yet what color (or colors) I’ll use for the layers of clouds.

Maybe nothing will come of any of these paintings, but I do feel that working on these skies has already taught me a lot. Perhaps the most valuable lesson is in knowing that skies don’t always have to be blue with white clouds. We can paint blue skies or gray skies in a traditional way, or we can venture into different hues not only in the sky itself but in the clouds.

As I continue learning and creating more spacious skies, I want to turn my attention next to different types of clouds… wispy mare’s tails, fierce nimbo-cumulus storm clouds, and thick, layered, stratus clouds. The World Meteorological Organization’s International Cloud Atlas recognizes more than 100 types of clouds. I’ll be content to learn the basic ones for now. It will be fun to learn to recognize and identify them (something I once loved to do as a child), and then it will be even more fun to take those clouds and put them into my landscape paintings.

I love our beautiful, spacious skies.



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