This week, in watercolor class, we are going to work on landscapes that include big skies or water. I think it is one of the most difficult of subject material, not because sky and water are difficult to render but because the artist needs to learn to let go and allow the water he is using to do some of the work. Both subjects lend themselves well to the abstract and the artist needs to learn to balance that look of the abstract with his desire to control everything he renders. The relinquishing of that control and the ability to watch what is happening on his paper is part of creating beautiful skies and believable water scenes.
One thing I did was to learn something about granulating washes. Here are two of my practice sheets of running color, one into the other, to see the different combinations they would produce.
I learned that it was very difficult to get muddy if I used enough water and allowed the colors to mix effortlessly together.
Time after time, I have run into problems with sky and water pieces when they are the major element to my painting. I had to learn to work quickly and keep my paper wet, to lift clouds with tissue or a damp brush and to tickle the edges of clouds with a brush where I wanted them softer. I learned that my sky or water would be a believable rendition of the subject material but not the exact replica. I learned to use my reference material as just that, a reference and not an “end all”, JUST LIKE IT in the finished painting. The skies that I have to go back into in a series of glazes are more edgy than those I can pull off in one pass over the page, so I tend to work with stronger color in the first pass on a sky. With waterscapes? I usually do three or four glazes. Water becomes more and more believable as I begin to work the darks into it. Frisket is great for saving sparkly hints of light on water.
I painted the above sunset in two passes. The clouds were lifted with a tissue and then lightly shaded in the second pass.
I ran into a problem with the sky in the above painting and ended up with a more edgy look to the sky than I would have liked. Be patient. Sometimes these paintings of sky and water go through an ugly phase. The real interest was not in the sky but in the shapes in the water and the backlit trees casting reflections into the foreground. Learn to let what is happening on the paper with the water and the pigment to help you. I am forever learning what the water can do.