View Full Version : Pastels for grey skies

Bill Foehringer
09-14-2005, 11:14 AM
In the past I have blended cobalt blue, mars violet and yellow ochre on the paper for grey clouds instead of using the black and white greys.
Does any one make more lively greys for clouds?
What do you all use for grey skies?
Fall is upon us and part of the attraction of fall colors can be the grey skies.

09-14-2005, 02:32 PM

A couple of days ago, I posted a link of a work in oil but with several parts that can be applied to pastel, in my opinion.
The Step Four has a passage about grey that may be interest you regarding your question. And how complementary colours can be used to give others a lively aspect.
I know it's not all you needed to know but I think that what's going on here is that several colours together (pontilism) or with another technique, will make a grey that won't seem dull; so one hopes :-)



Mikki Petersen
09-14-2005, 03:29 PM
I struggle with skies all around but as to color, I tend to rely on blue greys with toughes of ground color. Good luck!


09-14-2005, 04:48 PM
Hi Bill
I depend on ochres, greens for my clouds last winter

09-14-2005, 05:48 PM
Try cool grey. OK, so it's like a browny colour, but really works well.

Another simple trick is to do the clouds in white, then rub it in to mix with the sky colour, then highlight the outer edges in a Naples Yellow (for the warmer areas) and a cool off-white for the reast of the cloud edges. The original blended sky/white will then take on a shadowy look to the cloud.

09-14-2005, 09:14 PM
All good ideas, but I think the colors you've been using would be cool if you just let them show a bit here and there...in other words leave passages unblended almost. Gray is often a lot more colorful than you'd think!

Deborah Secor
09-16-2005, 11:48 AM
I use lavender, pale orange (think peachy), and light green, usually slightly blue-green, layered and lightly finger blended, to make my clouds grey. I find if you lay them down in different order they become differing colrs, warm or cool, depending on the last one used. I often make a range of darker grays using this triad (tertiaries) to make any kind of gray (also browns, but that's another story!)

I'm attaching a sample or two so you can reason this out. It might make a good subject for an ESP (Explore Soft Pastels)--do you think?


Mikki Petersen
09-16-2005, 12:34 PM
Deborah, I think it would be a wonderful ESP...living grays and cloudly skies! Your clouds look so realistic there.


Deborah Secor
09-16-2005, 02:46 PM
Let me see what I can do... sounds like a good one to me, too!


Kathryn Wilson
09-16-2005, 05:38 PM
Yes, yes! More skies from Deborah!

09-17-2005, 04:27 AM
Hooray, skies from Deborah! I shall be watching for that one with GREAT interest Deborah...as I have been asked to make a "pastel skies" DVD!!!!!! I am sure you can teach me a thing or three.

To answer the original post....

it is really important to observe the sky carefully. The greys will alter dramatically according to the time of day, and there are different types of cloud too - some more luminous that others, some more opaque, some more transparent. clouds are simply visible parts of sky, the result of water vapour rising, expanding and cooling in the air to form a mass of countless droplets. We need to paint clouds so that they do not look like solid stage scenery - one can fly through a cloud. In terms of colour although it is helpful to have a few ideas ready, remember - you do not want all your clouds to look the same .

There are many "coloured greys" in sticks of pastel . Blue-grey, brown-grey, yellowy grey, green grey, red grey, lavendar-grey, soft blue-grey, dusty pink-grey, ochre-grey. You clouds will start to look interesting, luminous and ethereal if you use subtle warm and cool coloured greys.

It can be a useful exercise to create a sheet of "coloured grey" swatches - individual colours, that you feel might be helpful when painting grey clouds. When you begin, you will start to pick up obvious greys. As the sheet develops, you will find yourself picking up colours which are CLOSE in tone to the greys you have put down, but are not actually grey. It is quite fascinating how the eye begins to "see" the colours and how they might work together. See how far you can "push" your colours gradually away from grey, and still feel they might have a use.

Remember too that you can "push" the overall colour of your scene in one direction or another, by using colour harmony - colours close to each other on the colour wheel. So, for example, your entire scene could be painted with cool greys, blues, purples. OR it could be painted with warm lavendar, pink, cream and ochre - or any other combination of colours close to each other on the colour wheel. this will give your painting unity. Here is one by Trevor Chamberlain which shows what I mean


and now look at the colours here to see how one does not need to use boring or monotonous grey (Handel):


one thing to notice is how little blending there is. The colours are not pale and washed out, they are quite strong, but the sky is overall lighter in tone than the ground, so light emanates from it, which is important. The effect of luminosity is achieved by scumbling one colour over another so that the under colour shows through in places - this also gives a lovely feeling of the fly-through quality of a cloud.
Recession - sky perspective - has been considered here; the clouds at the top of the picture, which are closest to us, are the biggest and darkest; at the horizon, the furthest point away from us, the tones lighten, the edges soften and the clouds diminish in size.
Have fun with your greys!

09-17-2005, 05:15 PM
Hi Bill

You have already received several good suggestions. One thing to note however is that part of what you see in the skies and clouds depends upon where you live. The "gray" of the northwest will be different from the gray of the southwest or gray of the midlands. I am unfamiliar with your area so can't really say exactly what colors I'd use if I was doing a cloud painting there. Here in the NW, I tend to agree with the selections of dfgray, but instead of "green" I use muted blue/green and ochre. Deb has the skies of her area down like the pro that she is, and I'll enjoy seeing what she writes.


PS - obviously the painting below is abstract and all references to "gray" clouds do not apply! :)

09-18-2005, 02:57 AM
Good point from PegggB. The atmosphere in different parts of the world must have a bearing on the colours we see.

In the Handel pic above, for instance, he has used a cool turquoise blue for the sky at the TOP of the picture. This is something one would never see here in the UK. The sky above our heads is ALWAYS a warmer blue than the sky at the horizon. I did wonder about this when I saw Albert's pic, but perhaps it is true to the place he was painting.

Observation is always really important.

09-18-2005, 01:14 PM
You are absolutely right, Jackie. Albert Handel lives in New Mexico where the skies almost always have a turquoise hue. I learned this lesson early in life when I did a painting while in Montana visiting my sister with a cold blue sky, but I live in Washington state. I had someone here who thought they had more experience then I did tell me that skies are never "that color". I asked if he'd ever been to Montana, and the answer was obvious - he hadn't. I've traveled and lived in many parts of the U.S., and skies have always been an interesting part for me. btw - I love your first thumbnail of water and clouded sky. I'd like to see it larger.

09-18-2005, 02:27 PM
Ochres, greens with blue gray
(a stormy April day though, 18 x 27")

09-18-2005, 02:44 PM
Way cool painting of the Pacific NorthWET Dan. Like your impressionistic strokes in the water too, and the way you used color to draw the eye into and around the work.


09-19-2005, 04:26 AM
Smashing piece, Dan.

BillF????????????????? Did we help at all?

09-19-2005, 06:54 AM
I have read this thread and found it really helpful. Thanks everyone that has posted, I am dying to do a landscape with a grey sky now!

I have given this four stars as I think this must be helpful to loads of people:)

Deborah Secor
09-19-2005, 12:19 PM
Helllloooooo... Bill? Are you still here? Did this help, or have we taken things way off track? Your question was really a good one! Thanks.


09-20-2005, 03:56 AM
I was pleased to see Deborah chiming in with an echo of my question to BillF - it can be quite frustrating, having a one-way conversation!

I find this doesn't happen a lot, but when it does, it leaves one wondering and worrying. What happened to the questioner? Are they away? Or - hope not - ill perhaps? Were they offended?

BillF, if you do get to read this, I hope you are OK and that your silence is not indicative of anything negative.


Nancy Leone
09-20-2005, 11:33 PM
Thank you all for the help with skies.

Yes, please Deborah...would love an ESP on clouds and greys!

Deborah Secor
09-22-2005, 11:43 AM
Okay, I put an ESP together on gray skies. Take a look at it and see what you think! LIVING GRAYS AND CLOUDY SKIES (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3901803#post3901803) I linked back to this thread, since it was the genesis of the idea! (Thanks, Bill!)

:wave: See you!


Bill Foehringer
09-26-2005, 05:25 PM
I'm OK!!!!! All great suggestions. Thanks everyone and Deb, Dan and Jackie. I think seeing greys is like many aspects of art, once you see it then you get it and can put it into your work. For instance I have looked at many paintings and noticed all the colors in the skies not thinking, I suppose, that I could do that too, LOL.
As for my absence,
We have semi-permanent house-guests and my niece is sleeping in the studio/computer room so I don't get in there often so I have to post from my day job, like now.
Also I have been feeling better, worked through some hard stuff in my mind, came into a little money that I'm using to finish the kitchen remodel and frame my art for the January display and of course buy some other art supplies. So life has been full to say the least. Still have a couple of heart-to-heart talks to do but then with the peace of mind I'm hoping for I'll be able to refocus on my art.
Thanks for asking and I appreciate, maybe more than you can know, the wonderfully complex responses to my questions. You all are filling a big void in my life. Sorry, did that fit into the "more info. than you need to know category"?
Keep laughing, even while they fit you up for a straight-jacket, a sense of humor will keep you sane, LOL, LOL BillF

Deborah Secor
09-26-2005, 06:20 PM
Great, Bill, glad all is well! Do post some of your gray skies for us, since you're the one who started this whole discussion!

Hmmmm, art supplies are often theraputic, you know!? I always wonder if we could get the insurance to cover the cost of pastels--after all, it's part of how we remain same--right? LOL


Bill Foehringer
10-07-2005, 09:08 AM
A note about the example of Handel's sky provided by Jackie. Notice how dark he went in the land/foliage to keep the darks in his sky lighter than the ground below. Two lessons in one. I'll post some of my grey sky efforts in the ESP thread when I've done some more. BillF