High up in the clouds

sunset in the clouds watercolor painting

sunset in the clouds

Just finished this painting, the principle for painting sunsets as with painting any piece of work that you want infused with a sense of light is the same, lighter and warmer towards the light source; darker and cooler away from the light source. The first time I really got the concept of warm-cool in the landscape context was when I saw this course notes on painting sunsets by landscape artist and teacher Richard Robinson. He explains very clearly the principles involved, and also how to take photographs so that we can recover the color information lost in the lights or the darks (depending on whether one focuses on the land or sky). Do check it out, its part of a larger mastering color course that can be purchased. His beautiful artwork is available at his website.





Lone cloud painting and How to paint paint blue skies


Detail of skyscape painting

Detail of skyscape painting


I cloudscape painting in watercolorswanted to look into the sky gradations a little more closely so I decided to do a simple skyscape painting. Also, I had been meaning to try this broken color technique from a long time, ever since I read this beautiful book on color by Walter Sargent actually (links at the end of article), but I held out at doing the excercises mentioned and waited to use it in something representational. This technique is used to set up a vibration or pulsating quality to a tone by placing it along with its two adjacent hues in the hue wheel. For e.g, here to achieve the blue tone of the sky I have used green, blue and violet in wet in wet washes. Green and violet when mixed together on the palette make a low chroma blue, so placing them next to each other instead of mixing them fully on the palette lets them be mixed visually by the eye so the area has a kind of shimmering quality to it that would not exist in a flat tone of blue. The tones must be controlled so that the overall effect from a distance looks blue and not green or violet and also so that the effect gradates from a warm blue to a cool blue and lighter to darker away from the sun (as discussed previously). The values of the 3 hues must be the same in any one area.

first washes - broken color

first washes – broken color

This quality of broken color or different colors playing subtly against each other actually does exist in nature, if we try to match a color sample or swatch from a home depo store to any color in nature, we see that they will never match exactly. The way the light plays across or through its surface, its texture and anamolies, reflected light from other surfaces all contribute to a sensation of its own unique color quality with its different group of tones which sets it apart from other surfaces which might have the same color but give a different color sensation. For e.g, red stained glass looks different from a red apple or a red piece of velvet. Distant mountains or trees catching the light of the sinking sun will have specks of complementary(to the light source) colors playing in their shadows. Its good to observe these effects first in nature before starting to apply them as `techniques`or `formulae` because I feel, that that will prevent direct observation of facts and consequently in the long run also our own creative expression of these facts if they are practiced before first perceiving them. Its more important to train the eye than the hand. The hand naturally follows the eye. In any case, its a very interesting study even for those who don`t paint. I remember back in the days when art was the last thing in my mind, I used to go up to our terrace with a book of Jiddu Krishnamurti or the Mother just before sunset time, to read and, at the end of a few sentences, I would look up and lose myself completely in nature, becoming one with the vast skies, the leaves rustling happily in the trees and the birds hurrying back, so content, to their resting places. Now after reading a lot of books on light and color, and knowing what to look for has only deepened my appreciation for color, what a profound joy it gives, just color in and of itself without any form to support it! In another place and time now, we have two balconies one facing to the north and one to the south and I can see patches of sky and hill in all four quadrants of the sky so I love to scurry along back and forth between the two to compare the colors at different times of the day and different weather conditions.

Well, back to the painting, here I have started laying in the color of the mountains, they are quite blue in the distance and as they come towards the viewer they get warmer or greener.

laying in the mountains

laying in the mountains

Talking about warm and cool colors immediately gives the impression of saturated yellows and reds versus blues to the mind but landscape colors are quite unsaturated and the gradations very subtle. You can use cards that have small holes punched in them and look through these to compare colors in the different parts of the sky. Color can be very deceiving, how we perceive a color depends largely on the colors surrounding it and so to isolate it helps us see its true color. You can also use the color picker on your photo editor to look at these differences. Here I have picked out colors from the top left part of the sky (where the sun is shining from) down to the horizon. You can see the low chroma blue (which has more yellow in it than the blue on the right hand side) going slightly greener and lighter towards the bottom. As it goes down the chroma also gets weaker that is , it gets grayer because additive mixing of blue light and yellow light (at horizon) makes white light. The luminous glow at the horizon is actually a slightly darker tan color, if we make it the light and bright orange yellow that it looks like, the area will come forward unnaturally (this tan color becomes grayish towards the right side). The next two colors are the colors of the very distant mountain and the nearer one.

sky gradations

sky gradations

Here are the colors of the mountains, which are very close to neutral yet changing from blue and light to green and dark. They look almost of one tone but the shadows have bits of blue and violet in them so this is where the broken color technique can be used.

mountain gradations

mountain gradations

Landscape painting in watercolors

finished painting



Further resources:

20th century but still relevant book on color, how light effects surfaces, color sensations, color mixing and techniques, color harmonies … a beautiful book : The Enjoyment and Use of Color by Walter Sargent.

Artist and illustrator James Gurney explains the gradations that occur in blue skies in his well researched article Sky Blue.

Pastel artist Richard Mckinley explains how he uses the broken color technique in his beautiful works at Painting Blue Skies.

Another 20th century book which makes for a thoroughly fascinating read is by Faber Birren , in which he talks about color effects in contrast to color schemes : Creative Color

Watercolor Artist’s Color and Value Wheels

I’ve been making these wheels, marking in the paints in the specific brands that I have, using the ones created by Bruce MacEvoy at Handprint.com as reference. I think for me, paint mixing will be much more efficient with these in plain sight. The color wheel on the right shows the most lightfast watercolor pigments available arranged according to hue angle. The coolest yellows are at 90degrees like cadmium lemon PY 97 and green gold PY 129, moving clockwise from there, are the warmer yellows like azo yellow PY 150 and gamboge PY 153. The unsaturated yellows lie within the wheel, the closer to the center point of the circle, the more unsaturated they are. These are the iron oxides like raw sienna, raw umber, burnt sienna, burnt umber etc PBr7, PBr 11 ..along with a variety of mixtures. Then we move onto the oranges like pyrrol orange PO 73 and red oranges like pyrrol scarlet PO 255 which are the most saturated pigments we have available right now. Maimeri burnt umber is an unsaturated red orange. Then come the reds like the cadmiums and quin reds PR 108 and PR 209. PR 179 perylene maroon is a beautiful unsaturated red. Quin magenta and quin violet PR 122 and PV 19 are saturated and unsaturated hues of magenta lying at 360 degrees. Cobalt violet and manganese violet PV 14 and PV 16 are saturated and unsaturated versions of the red violet hue at 330 degrees. Ultramarine violet PV 15 red shade is a violet at 300. I have a violet blue which is marketed as smalt by WinsorNewton at 270 degrees. There are not that many lightfast pigments available in this region, I have yet to acquire a nice, juicy good saturated violet. The red blue like ultramarine blue PB 29 comes next, then a true blue like cobalt blue PB 28 which comes close to the color of the sky , greener blues like pthalo blue PB 15:3 and the ceruleans PB 36, PG 50 from 240 to 200. The blue shade of pthalo green PG7 is at 180. M grahams permanent green light is yellower and Daniel Smiths sap green is an unsaturated yellow green close to the color of foliage. PBk 31 , perylene black is a very dull greenish black. This brings us back to the yellows. The paints with the same pigments can be marketed under different names so its best to look at the pigment numbers when purchasing them. The hues can vary slightly across brands depending on the manufacturing process. Hope this clears up some confusion about warm and cool colors. If we take yellow as the warmest hue then the hues containing it as the undertone are warm. The hue directly opposite this then, voilet blue , is the coolest. Some artists like to take the orange and blue green axis as the warm cool axis.

Artist's color and value wheel

Artist’s value and color wheel

Watercolor pigments arranged warm to cool and back

Watercolor pigments arranged warm to cool and back

The value wheel shows the lightness of the same pigments, the scale also corresponding to the Munsell charts. The yellows at their optimal color are the lightest at a value of 9 and 8, the oranges and teals at 7 and 6 , reds and greens at 5, magentas and violets at 4 and the blues are at 3. Carbon black comes only to about a 2 and does not reach a true black at 0.

Here are the wheels that have been developed by Bruce MacEvoy who has been kind enough to share them on his website:

High quality pdf versions :
Artist’s color wheel
Artist’s value wheel



Finished painting and Hints on how to paint midday skies


Finished Painting:Solid Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/mat-picture-frame

A good book to look at for all these concepts for paintings landscapes is Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

The Reilly papers is also a good source of information, please do check it out : The Reilly Papers

Sky values:

The sky is the lightest part of the landscape and should not get darker than a 7 or 6 on the value scale because the sun and sky are the two light sources that we have outdoors and therefore it follows that nothing can get lighter than the light source itself! So following this rule gives us the luminosity in a landscape. The next important concept in painting skies are the gradients that we find because of the warm yellow color of the sun and the cool blue of the sky.

Gradients in sky: (First Washes):

There are two gradients going on in the sky one going darker and cooler away from the sun and the other going lighter and warmer  from zenith to horizon (from top to bottom). In this case, sunlight is streaming in from the left hand side, so the blues go from warmer and lighter to cooler and darker left to right. Also, the sky changes from a slightly violet blue to a slightly green blue top to bottom. So this is what I am trying to establish here in the first washes.

I had taken these photos at Rotterdam and been using them for reference, you can see these gradients happening clearly in this one below:

Rotterdam photos2Rotterdam photos1

first washes


 Cloud lights and shadows:

The light areas of the clouds receive the light of the sun and are warm, I have placed pale tints of yellow on the left one and going towards slightly orange on the right one. The half tones and shadows donot receive the direct light of the sun rather get the cool light of the sky from the opposite side and therefore are cooler going from a warm blue to almost dull violets, I`ve even placed some red violet for color interest.

After that it gets a little tricky:  due to atmospheric perspective, from zenith to horizon, the light areas of the clouds go warmer and darker and cloud shadows go cooler and lighter, so the contrast gets decreased towards the horizon and the tones sort of all merge together to a pale warm tint and this gives the illusion of depth and distance.

shadows distant cloud lights establishing horizon finishing touches


The ground is of a value only slightly darker than the sky because when the sun is overhead , the ground is perpendicular to it and receives the most amount of light. I let the colors of the sky flow into it and added some dull greens and reds for buildings and trees, and a  lighter portion for the canal.

So these were the things I was trying to concentrate on in my first cloudscape painting , also trying to achieve a moody and atmospheric quality by being looser with the brush and also looking at warm cool relationships and also and also ………heeeee das wars dann. Thanks for looking , I hope you liked it and see you next time with a sunset sky! TschĂźss!!


New cloudscape painting WIP

Cumulus clouds

Cumulus clouds sketch

Hi everyone , I`ve just started working on a cloudscape painting and I want to share it here as it progresses, with you all. Here is the rough sketch that I`ve going for now, looking at the overall design and for the underlying rhythms in the forms. It`s based on a photograph that I had taken at midday lighting conditions in the Netherlands some time back. The viewpoint is high overlooking the entire city but the structures looked too busy, so I`ve left in only a thin strip of land showing to bring home the contrast between the huge cloud formation and the tiny buildings and canals. It had started forming within minutes before our very eyes and the day transformed suddenly from bright and sunny to heavy downpour but not before leaving me with beautiful pictures!