How to Paint Skies with Watercolors

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 45,065
    Craft Expert Catherine Hillis discusses how to paint skies with watercolors.

    Catherine Hillis: Hi! I'm Catherine Hillis, and I'm teaching you how to paint with watercolors. Now I'm going to teach you how to paint two skies, of course there are many types a skies that we can paint. But just for today, we're going to paint a blue sky and then we're going to paint a stormy sky in watercolors.

    The first rule in painting skies is observation. I think a lot of times we think that a sky is ultramarine blue or cerulean blue and we forget that there are other colors that are there. So what I'd like you to do is, really have a look at some skies and try and see what colors that you see.

    Now I'm going to paint this blue sky first, and this is the wet-on-wet technique. So that means, I need to wet the paper first. So I have a nice wash brush and I'm going to wet the paper thoroughly. I'm just floating water on top of the paper very evenly. I'm picking up any drips that I might have. I like to work upright when I'm painting in watercolors, but many artists like to work flat or on a surface that's tilted at 30 degree angle.

    I want to make sure this paper is really wet. You want this surface to glow, but you do not want the water to be puddled. So again I'm going to pick up any drips, because wherever the paper is wet, the watercolor is just going to flow. Now I almost never paint to sky totally blue, I usually begin with yellow first. I'm going to dilute yellow in my palette and just come across the paper with some yellow. I notice that particularly along the horizon line, you often have a yellow glow. So do observe some skies today and see if you don't see that as well. I don't always bring the yellow all the way up; I usually concentrate it down along the horizon line.

    Next, I'm going to use a little bit of quinacridone rose, just overlapping that color right on top of the yellow. I'm going to keep picking up any access water that I have down here at the bottom. I can bring that red right on up to the top of the sky. The paper is beginning to dry just a little bit. So I want to be sure that it stays evenly moist so that the paint has a better opportunity to flow.

    Now I'm going to load my brush up with the blue and I like to use several colors of blue. When I'm painting the sky, I like to use some thalo and some cerulean, maybe some ultramarine. And I like to come right on top of these beautiful colors, that I've already laid down. I'll generally begin at the top of the sky and use overlapping brush strokes. Part of the reason I like to use the paper upright, is because it allows the paint to flow, which is really nice.

    In this case I'm doing a bit of a graded wash right on top of the yellow and blue. And what will happen, is those beautiful colors will just glow right through, giving you a lovely warm sort of a sky. And have I painted just a straight blue on that, it would have been a very cold look, and I think that a lot of times a sky should have a wonderful warm look.

    Now I'm going to paint a stormy sky, and you can see that I already painted this section with the yellow, a nice bright transparent yellow and my quinacridone rose, and I let it dry. Part of the secret in watercolors is to being sure that each section dries thoroughly before you move on. You don't want to paint a glaze on top of an area that's wet, because then you'll get muddy colors remixing. So this is totally dry, and what I need to do first is to rewet this. I have already mixed my colors for the stormy sky. But what I would like here, is I would like some nice warm yellows and roses shining through my stormy-storm clouds.

    So I'm going to evenly wet this, and it takes a lot of water sometimes for these areas to be wet. I usually use the flat brush for sky and a wash brush so I can get -- It's a flat area, so I use a flat brush for flat area. I might use a round brush for a rounder area such as an apple or pear, I probably would use a round brush. But for a sky, I normally use a flat brush.

    Then I'm going to load up my brush with paint, and I've made some beautiful grays. I'm just going to stroke across with that beautiful gray, stroke across here again, and these are storm clouds moving in. So while this is wet, the paint is just going to be moving across the horizon, and I usually want the sky to be much darker at the top and that's it. There is the stormy sky.

    I'll let this paper be tipped up for a while so that the paint can move down and then I'm going to lay the paper flat and I'm going to dry just like, I'm going to use a hairdryer and dry the paint in place, just like I would here. As soon as I lay the hairdryer on the paper, it will set the paint exactly where I want it, and I have a stormy sky.

    So you have a blue sky and a stormy sky. And next that I'm going to teach you how to paint flowers in watercolors.