Skies Don’t Have Brushstrokes In Them

16 Sep 2014

Watercolor artist Thomas Schaller achieves convincing and dynamic effects in his skies (Salisbury Cathedral, watercolor painting).
Watercolor artist Thomas Schaller achieves convincing and dynamic effects in his skies
(Salisbury Cathedral, watercolor painting).
I know it is a bias, but sometimes I can't help thinking that painting skies belongs to a particular realm of watercolor painting. The medium just seems best suited to give the jaw-dropping visual effects that often appear in the sky.

Take a crystal clear blue sky on a sunny day. The delicacy and uniformity of that color--with very little variation in tone or value--seems much easier to convey in a bold wash of watercolor than in the brushstrokes of an oil painting. While I love brushstrokes, and think there is a time and place for them, sometimes they can be visually disruptive if handled in too busy a manner, or if the effect you want is a little more seamless.

Or what about the extreme colors of the aurora borealis? These atmospheric effects are so vaporous and fine that blotting a series of colors on watercolor paper seems the way to go to achieve that transparent gleam.

Barcelona, Spain VII by Keiko Tanabe, watercolor painting, 11 1/2 x 8 1/4.
Barcelona, Spain VII by Keiko Tanabe,
watercolor painting, 11 1/2 x 8 1/4.
If there are storm clouds rolling in with several gradations of color in the sky, then this could be an excellent opportunity to really put the blending properties of watercolor painting through its paces. Painting wet into wet, you can usually build subtle layers of color while getting a lot of organic forms in the area you are painting--both of which would be ideal for a cloudy, stormy sky.

By no means am I saying that watercolor artists are superior or that watercolor art is heads above the rest, but watercolor painting may be the way to go if you are drawn to many of the most powerful aspects of art--color, texture, line, and organic forms. The Artist's Color Guide to Watercolor can really open up your eyes to all of the inherent possibilities in this medium, or it can help you sharpen your watercolor painting techniques if you are a practicing watercolorist. Either way, enjoy!


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