Thursday, 25 June 2015


BIG SKY IN SUNLIGHT by Sea Dean - 12" x 9" Panel


I've been promising myself and others to follow up on my John Constable clouds blog. I urged fellow artists to get out of the studio and paint plein air for a week, observing the clouds and creating as accurate a portrayal as possible. Today I found the time to follow my own advice.

Observing nature first hand is an entirely different experience to painting in the studio. The difference between painting Plein Air and painting from an image of the scene is radical. Cameras are wonderful things, but they are not very accurate, the lens can distort the image and digital colour is only an approximation, usually making the darks darker and the lights lighter. This is all complicated by different camera settings and computer settings and that is eliminated when you observe directly.

Funnily enough acrylic paints have the same problem with the darks drying darker and the lights drying lighter. Therefore if you paint with acrylics from an image your darks will be much too dark and your lights much too light. If you are marketing your work on the internet, the image of the painting will have the same problem if you don't compensate with photo shop.

In this painting I was focused on the sky and the different cloud formations. First it was important to observe the angle of the sun and the intensity of the shadow. In the hours it took me to complete the work the clouds were continually moving and turning colour as afternoon turned to evening and the sun sank lower on the horizon. Just before I finished the high clouds started to show a mackerel effect and hints of sunset and I couldn't resist adding it.

I started painting at the top, which is almost looking straight up in the sky. Those clouds are closer and therefore larger. As I moved down the painting I was adding clouds further away, so the colour greys and the edges become less distinct. The clouds also stack in front of each other as they come forward. Looking at the base of the clouds the perspective stacks the edges closer together until at the horizon the bases are too close and too indistinct to separate. So there are many things to consider with each brushstroke.

One of the most important things I learned was paying attention to the edges. Although they appear quite distinct, that is mainly because of the colour difference rather than making a hard edge. In fact I blended most sections quite a lot.

Another thing I learned is that clouds are not white fluffy things. Actually there is only a tiny bit of Titanium white blended into the horizon, and the bulk of the values are #5 or darker. The tips of the clouds were picking up the sunlight, but the rest were quite heavy with moisture and therefore quite dense and greyed.

There are a couple of areas that I will go in and retouch when the paint is dry. The hillside in shadow has darkened too much as it dried and there is a clone at the base of the right hand clouds which is also too dark and too central. Apart from those two things, I'm quite happy with this cloudscape.

Remember I will be posting your cloud paintings at the end of the month and I'm looking forward to hearing what you learned while painting them.

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