View Full Version : ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

Deborah Secor
09-21-2005, 03:58 PM

PASTELS FOR GRAY SKIES (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=294890&page=1&pp=15)

In the thread that BillF introduced (linked above) we started talking about what makes a good gray for the lovely rain-soaked fall and winter skies we all want to paint. There were a lot of good ideas, which made us think that maybe another ESP (Exploring Soft Pastels) was in order, devoted to this topic.

A lot of folks came up with suggested combinations of colors they use, which I hope you all will continue to explore here. I have a ‘recipe’ that I’ve developed, too, so I thought perhaps we could investigate how to make interesting, lively grays.

I’m going to show you my method, how I layer my colors over one another, then layer and layer some more to get my grays. Then it’s your turn. You can either try it my way, or show us how you do it! There’s no ‘right’ way—we all develop ways that work well for us.

Here are some “out of the tube” grays for comparison:
(I also apologize for the quality of these pix. I just didn't have time to tweak them any more, so I hope they help you as is... :o )

I like to use tertiary colors, though I’m not terribly strict about them from the standpoint of the color wheel (so if you’re a purist, you can educate me!) I favor orange, green and purple, as long as they are similar in value—although I like the coolest color to be slightly darker, because of the predominant color of the sky.

Here are some of the colors and how I layer them for effect:


http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Sep-2005/23609-DSCN5144.JPG http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Sep-2005/23609-DSCN5152.JPG
I lay down at least six layers, repeating the colors to gray the mix until I have a creamy, lively gray. I usually don't finger blend a lot, since that makes more mud than gray, but I will occasionally blend and then cover the result with more layers. A lot of the color depends on what you end with.

And a detail from one of my paintings:

As well as a couple of my paintings to show you how that applies:


Take a look at post number 11 in the PASTELS FOR GRAY SKIES thread above to read some of the really astute observations of Jackie Simmonds! Among other things she points out is that “greys will alter dramatically according to the time of day.” So true! The light varies at different times of the day, resulting in grays that are warmer or cooler, and even varying colors. Don’t feel that you have to stick to the grays in your palette—in fact, look at the examples Jackie shares of other artist’s work.

One thing I’ve observed about cloudy skies is that even the darkest sky at the darkest moment is not as dark as the shadow it casts over the land. One way to avoid ‘lead balloons’ is to make sure the structure of your gray sky is lighter than the ground plane. Said more plainly: darken the land! Save your darkest darks for the ground, not the sky.

I found some information about painting clouds that I think is relevant, written by John Ruskin:

Excerpted from the chapter OF TRUTH OF CLOUDS......

"Perhaps the most grievous fault of all, in the clouds of some painters, is the utter want of transparency. Not in her most ponderous and lightless masses will nature ever leave us without some evidence of transmitted sunshine; and she perpetually gives us passages in which the vapour becomes visible only by the sunshine which it arrests and holds within itself, not caught on its surface but entangled in its mass - floating fleeces, precious with the gold of heaven, and this translucency is especially indicated on the dark sides even of her heaviest wreaths, which possess opalescent and delicate hues of partial illumination".

Take a leaf from Ruskin’s book and work to keep your gray skies transparent or semi-transparent looking. Your clouds must look like you could fly through them, even when they are sodden and draped like a curtain. I think our own DFGray does this incredibly well! Look at post number 15 in the PASTELS FOR GRAY SKIES thread to see how he structures his values and colors. Although there are some values that approach those in the land, overall you can sense the light of the sky.

There is so much more to say about cloudy skies that I hope all of you will join in, since I haven’t time to write more—and there is so much more to know! Please add links to pages you think are relevant, drop in illustrations of your own or others’ paintings (with credit, of course), and feel free to ask questions that others here may answer. Maybe between all of us we can ask and answer a lot more than we think!


09-21-2005, 08:28 PM
WOW Deborah. Thank you so much for showing your palette and telling your technique. :clap: :clap: :clap:

I like the colors in the sky and in the clouds so much. Specially in the second one. Beautiful work.

Deborah Secor
09-22-2005, 11:34 AM
Thanks Maria! I'm glad you think it's helpful. I hope some will add their own ideas to this thread...

:) Deborah

Mikki Petersen
09-22-2005, 12:14 PM
Whoo hoo! Thank you Deborah for the wonderful examples. It is interesting to see your illustrations of the darker land. I've been reading F. Calson's Guide to the Landscape where he states impirically that the sky is always lighter than the land. If ound myself arguing with this, but your examples show exactly what he was talking about (the book is packed with information but short on examples).

Is there a difference when painting clouds near the sun as opposed to clouds away from the sun? I have noticed that the sky in general is fairly pale on the sun side but can be quite intense on the "far side". I am now struggling with the "illusions" in painting and wondering if the rules change much with the position of the sun.

Thanks for another terrific ESP!

09-22-2005, 01:45 PM
well, what a wonderful look at Sky Greys from Deborah - you lucky people who are watching - it's not often you get the chance to get such excellent teaching for free!

Here are a few extra thoughts to add to the mix, if you will pardon the pun :) ................

1. The sky tends to set the mood of the picture, and the other elements in the picture should take this into consideration. For instance, if the sky is light and bright, the entire scene is likely to be bright and light. If the sky is dark and moody, the scene will be dark and moody. Sounds obvious, but I have seen the reverse applied, when people have worked from photos, and added a new sky to a scene which had a boring sky in it.

2. Always be consistent with the direction of the light. If, for instance, the light is coming from the right, the left side, and the underside of each cloud will be in shadow. If the clouds are lit from behind, (you are looking into the sun) they will have light edges as the sun is behind them, and it may shine through in places. If there is sun in the sky lighting those clouds, the light will be warm compared to the cloud shadows.

3. Be aware of perspective in clouds. It's no good working with wonderful ranges of grey, if your don't get recession going in your clouds. Overhead clouds sometimes look like a random mass and as they move away, forms become more obvious; smaller, and in some conditions they flatten out on the underside in the distance. Distant clouds near the horizon be tonally lighter versions of the greys you use.

4. When there is cloud, and sun, there are often shadows on the ground. You need to be logical about these ground shadows and ensure they relate to the direction of the light.

5. If you are working "plein air", you will need to work very fast, so it is a good idea to practice cloud colours at home, and have your "cloud sticks" ready when you go out and about. Don't keep trying to change the cloud shapes as you work - find a shape and pattern you like and stick with it. Aiming to find a pattern for your sky, to make a strong composition,is good working practice.

6. Try differnt approaches to working with your colours. Deborah has shown one way; also try putting down your colours directly in small patches, and blend a little (not too much!). Then try cross hatching. Then try broken colour. Clouds can be painted in many different ways. Just bear in mind not to have too many differing techniques going on in the same painting - you dont want people to be aware of the technique, but instead, to be aware of the overall atmosphere.

7. It can be a good idea to start at the horizon and work upwards. Working this way, this usually means you add your lightest colours last, which is good working practice.

I hope these notes might be helpful, tho they do not really address coloured greys - sorry Deborah!
there is more info in the other thread, as Deborah mentions.

Mikki Petersen
09-22-2005, 02:33 PM
Jackie, more great information! I think it fits perfectly in this ESP and I really appreciate the concise listing of points. Starting a foggy coastal scene today so all this is very timely.

Happy painting!

Deborah Secor
09-22-2005, 06:37 PM
Yours is a good question, Mikki, and I have some thoughts about it but no time right now to respond... so, stay tuned! If anyone else wants to take it on, go for it! :) *hint* think silver lining...

Great additions, Jackie--thanks! :D


09-22-2005, 06:43 PM
Well done Deborah and Jackie! Nice to see an ESP again- and I've been messing about with grays a lot, too, lately (although not for landscapes! ;) )

09-23-2005, 11:08 PM
Here's what I did with a WDE reference photo after reading this article. This is 10x13 on Canson.


Thank you, Deborah! I have a whole different understanding of grays. It really helped to actually see the blends being made. I think I may need a lighter touch though, lol (where have I heard that before?).

Deborah Secor
09-23-2005, 11:24 PM
Kim, as I said, it's terrific! :wave: I love the depth of the grays, and the neutral of gray always serves to allow a color to sing--your blues, for example! Oh, yes, all of us can use a lighter touch!! :p

And to answer Mikki's good question:

Is there a difference when painting clouds near the sun as opposed to clouds away from the sun? I have noticed that the sky in general is fairly pale on the sun side but can be quite intense on the "far side". I am now struggling with the "illusions" in painting and wondering if the rules change much with the position of the sun.

Clouds that are in a direct line between the sun and your eye will have that silver lining effect because the more opaque, thicker cloud body blocks the light while the semi-transparent part along the edge glows with light refracted in the water droplets or ice crystals. Yes, the sky there is over-light, almost white with the sun, depending on how low it is in the sky.

The color of clouds near the sun (but not in a direct line) tends to be influenced by the warmth of the light, which makes them seem yellowy-green-gray to me, while those opposite the sun seem to be a cool, whitish-blue/aqua/lavender-gray, which goes along with your ovservation about the intensity of the sky. There's more contrast. A lot depends on whether you're seeing thec clouds against the cool of the sky color, with sunlight hitting on one side, or against a pale sky with the light coming almost through them--then they can look dirty-gray (meaning green-orange gray, or lavender-orange gray).

Carlson is great--you can trust what he says. Doesn't he have something in the book about this issue? Show me an example of what you're asking and maybe between the two of us we can reason it out further! :wink2:


Mikki Petersen
09-24-2005, 10:57 AM
Thank you Deborah for the answer to my question. Here are two photographs showing cloudy sky in different lights. In this first one, a sunset in New Mexico, ths sun is setting and the light is obscured by the clouds and the land is darker than the sky just as it should be according to Carlson.
But this one, taken in Canyonlands, Utah, where the sun is behind the viewer and great storm clouds are rolling in from the opposite direction, clearly shows the sky to be darker than the land. One might argue that this is a photographic phenomena but I was there and clearly remember how the land glowed brightly against those nighttime colored clouds.
Maybe I'm just dealing with an exception to the rule here. I fined that as soon as I memorize a rule I run smack into an exception, which is why they are GUIIDELINES and not rules, I guess.

As for painting either of these skies, I think the use of blues and purples are clearly suggested emphasizing your discussion of "greys' being full of color. I remember a lot more color in the clouds than are shown in these photos and would paint them as I remember them rather than as depicted.

Thank you agian for taking so much time with this.

Mikki Petersen
09-24-2005, 11:04 AM
Kim your painting is breathtaking! All that color packed into what at first glance is almost monochrome! Excellent illustration of the lesson, IMHO. This makes me want to break out in songs from "South Pacific"... :music: Bali high... :music:


09-24-2005, 11:39 AM
Sing it, Mikki! Julie had a little song in my onion thread the other day--is that why y'all call it the Silver Chord Art Guild? The Singing Pastellists of the Silver Chord...transcends the acronym.

And THANK YOU for your kind words!

A thought about your cloud pics above: although the sky appears darker than the land in the second one--and I've seen that effect too, with a storm coming on--is it really darker? I'm asking because I'm trying to understand this too.

If you put it in grayscale, is the sky really darker in value? By squinting hard, I can see that the darkest shadows on the rocks are clearly darker than any part of the sky. While the land definitely has the lightest lights, it also has ALL the darkest darks, in the rocks and in the trees. It looks like the sky and the land both have those middle-darks.

What do you think? It's pretty deceptive and is starting to give me a headache, lol. I'd love to hear what folks have to say about this. I'm not sure there's a right or wrong, but it's fascinating to see things through other people's eyes.

09-24-2005, 01:17 PM
hello all... this is Kim's fault... i'm saying that right off....

i had just posted my scoop last nite in WDE when i saw her gray skies as above here... and came right here to the site and read all this, went back and applied the gray principles.... today she said i should show you this...
the Before and After.... just shows that principles apply no matter what the subject matter!!! thank you for this great information and will now try the cloud, boosted by this info....(oi! :( )

09-24-2005, 01:30 PM
separately, i have to jump into this discussion of DarkSky/DarkLand.... those are 2 fabulous photos, Mikki.... in the first, the sun is obscured... of course the land is dark.... in the second the sun is free of clouds and behind the viewer, of course the land is still in sun, the dark clouds havent reached us yet.... am i over-simplifying???? what am i missing??? Mikki.... be sure and let me know if you paint the mesas (or whatever they're called)... they're truly spectacular!! :clap: Kordy

09-24-2005, 02:04 PM
Re those two photos.

It's the POSITION of the sun that is really important to recognise.

In the first photo, the sun is sinking, it's below the horizon, juding by the direction of the rays, so it cannot be casting much light onto the land.

In the second photo, the sun is much, much higher in the sky, so that the land is illuminated by it. The bright parts of the land will therefore be much brighter than the grey cloud, and look at the shadow parts of the land - they are DARKER than the cloud.

No matter what anyone says, you need to use your eyes, use your OBSERVATION SKILLS. The camera is really dangerous to rely upon, because it cannot possibly get the tones absolutely right, it will expose for the light every time, and will darken the darks. USE YOUR EYES FOLKS, and believe what they tell you.

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever than someone standing in the shoes of the photographer for that sunset photo, would NOT have been seeing totally black land.


09-24-2005, 03:05 PM
hello all... this is Kim's fault... i'm saying that right off....

i had just posted my scoop last nite in WDE when i saw her gray skies as above here... and came right here to the site and read all this, went back and applied the gray principles.... today she said i should show you this...
the Before and After.... just shows that principles apply no matter what the subject matter!!! thank you for this great information and will now try the cloud, boosted by this info....(oi! :( )

Oh sure, blame me! Actually, go right ahead and blame me for the lovely work you've done here. Isn't it cool when one little article gets right to the heart of what you're doing? So efficiently serendipitous, lol.

Deborah Secor
09-24-2005, 06:50 PM
Hey Mikki--take a look at the second photo in grayscale. I didn't tweak it at all, just removed color:


Now look at it without any details to distract you:


What I want you to see is that the darkest values are in the land, and the only reason you see the sky as 'darker' is because of the contrast against the horizon--but essentially it isn't that light! Distilled down, the darkest darks are the shadows and the trees, the lightest lights are in the ground plane and the sky is medium-dark to medium in value. The color of the rocks is very intense, but don't mistake intensity for value. It isn't that light--just bright!

You all were onto it already! Jackie has seen it. The angle of the sun really has an impact on what's light. Notice that even though the sky is darkening, the clouds are still a bit lighter on top. I suspect there was a continuing bank of clouds aboe that band that cast a shadow on the advancing storm clouds. It's a wonderful photo and I hope you'll paint it, Mikki!! It looks like something you would do well with.

Kordelia, that is a wonderful adjustment to grays! Yep, color theory pretty much applies anywhere. Thanks for sharing--it's a very dynamic piece! :D


09-25-2005, 07:52 AM
Oh sure, blame me! Actually, go right ahead and blame me for the lovely work you've done here. Isn't it cool when one little article gets right to the heart of what you're doing? So efficiently serendipitous, lol.
I'm blaming you as well Kim...If I hadn't seen your ref to this thread....I wouldn't have tried the same exercise as you! I revisted the one I'd done in Acrylics...and did it in pastel using the non grey method! I'm impressed with the result...even if I do say so myself! :evil: I mean the greys..not my painting! :wink2:

09-25-2005, 09:46 AM
Well, where is it?

Deborah Secor
09-25-2005, 10:34 AM
Yeah! :D


09-25-2005, 11:12 AM
it..... they...... are in the WDE.... she'll probably cross later.... there are so many versions.... had the same thing.... ooops... didnt post mine either....

09-25-2005, 11:21 AM
finished late last night.... anyone who hasnt seen/taken this ref foto SHOULD! it's perfect for this subject.... and very controversial.... i've foto'd and scanned and gotten all kinds of results .....

first time: on red/orange paper 12x16 many, many softies .... fotos very very cold.... which is the object... so first TWO fotos are on RED ORANGE paper...

second time: on gray Canson 12X16, wish i had left out the original sofites i'd used so it would be a truer test.... couldnt come up with the same 'coldness' no matter what i did.... it's not a 'blue' as the photo shows, but i think the sky is confusing more than cold... almost thinking of scrubbing it out and starting over.... it's a perfect ref foto..... try it if you havent yet......

any and all suggestions taken very seriously..............thankew for looking :wave: Kordelia

09-25-2005, 11:30 AM
Absolutely agree! Here....you can have mine too! It's very confiusing! :confused: :D
and this...
and this!
See? :p

09-25-2005, 12:02 PM
So....will the real painting please stand up?
(Which one is closest to real life, Deirdre?)

Kory--you have been busy, busy, busy!

09-25-2005, 12:30 PM
None of them Kim! IRL...the clouds are mauvyyellowypinky grey...and the water is more green, and greeny blue than blue,,,with mauvyyellowypinky grey highlights!
Here the raw camera shot...I lightened it a bit previously...so you can make your own mind up :wink2:
I didn't see it as fog, which to me is diffuse...rather just low clouds....which have differentation...which is why mine look like blobs of ice-cream! :evil:

Mikki Petersen
09-25-2005, 12:38 PM
Well gosh, ladies! I think every one of these paintings point up the use of colors for grey. As for which one is "real"...they all are. Real interpretations of what the artist saw and was feeling. Each view has it's own beauty. When you look at the grouping, it is intersting to see the different effects achieved by using different color relationships witht he same subject. Very nice experiment!

Okay, uncle! I see exactly what you mean about my photos. I have to argue that the sunset photo is actually very close to the real conditions...you could see the details of the land but only in very dark colors. This has been a wonderful discussion and I'm learning lots.


09-25-2005, 07:18 PM
I've read through the entire post and I' hope that I have managed to learn a little more about colours. I can draw in graphite, but colours were really a headach for me till recently.

I think I will try your lessons in the WDE picture of clouds, and see what I can produce now.
This is my snow picture prodiced for this weekends WDE, I'm sure it contains some of theeffects you can get using colours to produce greys and snow cover?
C&C welcome :)

09-26-2005, 03:52 AM
Okay, uncle! I see exactly what you mean about my photos. I have to argue that the sunset photo is actually very close to the real conditions...you could see the details of the land but only in very dark colors. This has been a wonderful discussion and I'm learning lots.


Mikki I am sure that the sunset photo is close to real, but even you admit that you remember you could see those details and dark colours,while the camera didn't. That is why I made the comment - the camera's interpretation must not be relied upon as absolute truth.

The human eye is remarkable.

Love those "greys" in the pics above, by the way. very expressive. Very imaginative. That is what it is all about.


Deborah Secor
09-26-2005, 11:31 AM
Oh, wow, I am just blown away by these paintings! How great to have a WDE image that fits so perfectly! I love all the colors used to equate with grays--it just shows so perfectly that grays can be made up of any colors.

Kordelia, the icy cold of those paintings really reads well. Brrrrr.... :wink2: Thanks for showing them!

And Dierdre, these are wonderful examples, too! I don't know which of them is more accurate to the real painting, but the 'raw camera shot' you showed is very moody. Something about less contrast, I guess.

Steph, snow can be a bit tricky, and this mountain painting has some beautiful gray-blues in it. It deserves its own thread for critiques, I think! That way more of our gang will see it and comment. Let us see your island painting here, if you get a chance to shoot it. :)

I was just over in Mikki's thread called As the Evening Fog is Born (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3912397#post3912397) (great title, BTW, Mikki!) and I want to point you to her subtle but lively grays! Wow!!!! Go take a peek, if you haven't seen it already.

Jackie, I couldn't agree with you more about the fact that photos lie and can lead us astray. They have to function as an aid to our memory, rather than the goal of the painting and once we artists recognize this we can stand on the platform of the photo and springboard into the painting. I find that as my students grow in skill they also grow in selectivity, don't you? It's when I see a crummy photo made into a gorgeous, full of life and light painting that I know they really, truly get it! Of course, I need the constant reminder that the photo isn't the goal, too, and then I just have to duck outside and paint what I see again--gray skies and all!

Anyone else have grays to share? Hey Jackie--what about you? We'd love to see something of yours...if you have the time! :wave:


Bill Foehringer
09-26-2005, 11:54 AM
Look at the right hand side Mikki' second photo. Is the rock formation darker or lighter than the blue-grey sky beyond it? Look at the darkest shadows under the plants- they look almost black on my monitor. The darkest darks are not in the sky. BillF
PS Whoops! I missed a whole page. The black and white versions tell it all.
My set of Girault darks have made all the difference in making the darks dark enough.

09-26-2005, 02:13 PM
Thank you Deborah, I will post it in a new thread. I've decided to join this pastel forum if you will have me. :)

I have been thinking about this thread and what's been said of an on all day. Its a great lesson, and I've taken it all in :)

Deborah Secor
09-26-2005, 02:50 PM
PS Whoops! I missed a whole page. The black and white versions tell it all.
My set of Girault darks have made all the difference in making the darks dark enough.

Bill, doncha hate when you miss a page? I've done that so many times! Oh, and I LOVE Giraults, too! I have a half set that is a 'must' in my palette now.

Steph, glad to have you join us here in the dusty forum... :wave: We're a friendly gang, I think!


Nancy Leone
09-28-2005, 09:39 PM
Thank you so much for your help in this thread. Today while painting at the beach a little cloud appeared so I tried one of your color combos and voila!!
I painted a (not bad) quickly passing cloud. Now with a bit more practice I forsee a not so grey future (or would that be a very nice grey future?) Whatever, thank you!

Deborah Secor
09-30-2005, 11:32 AM
Nancy, great! So glad this thread has helped you see the beauty in a gray future! LOL

I've decided to add a class to my current session on painting grays without gray and the function of neutrals. It's interesting to note how neutral colors--muted, grayed or browned colors--allow the more saturated hues to shine. It takes balance, though. Too much brilliance seems to make the neutrals look dowdy or frowzy, too much neutral color makes the brilliant, saturated color seem coarse and jaded, or cheap looiing. I think the 'balance' isn't necessarily an equality of neutral and saturated color, but the 'right' balance for the scene. It will be interesting to explore that further! Any thoughts here???


09-30-2005, 01:01 PM
I've decided to add a class to my current session on painting grays without gray and the function of neutrals. It's interesting to note how neutral colors--muted, grayed or browned colors--allow the more saturated hues to shine. It takes balance, though. Too much brilliance seems to make the neutrals look dowdy or frowzy, too much neutral color makes the brilliant, saturated color seem coarse and jaded, or cheap looiing. I think the 'balance' isn't necessarily an equality of neutral and saturated color, but the 'right' balance for the scene. It will be interesting to explore that further! Any thoughts here???

It isn't something I've thought about before. The whole color theory thing is new to me, so I welcome all discussions on the subject. I just feel very fortunate to receive this level of instruction for free!

10-01-2005, 07:49 AM
Dee - slightly off topic - can I ask how you "blurred" that b&w photo? I need to do that with one of my pics.

(perhaps I should just take off my glasses!)


Kathryn Wilson
10-01-2005, 08:56 AM
Squint Jackie, squint! Actually, I believe she used one of the Photoshop tools/filters - or whatever photo manip program she is using. I play around with some of those tools to see what a photo would look like with one of their artistic filters - brush strokes or palette knife, etc.

Deborah Secor
10-01-2005, 11:21 AM
Kat has it right. I use Photoshop Elements to play with photos, removing color and then filtering with different effects. I like the angled strokes filter, crosshatch, paint daubs, and spatter in particular. I often use two or three filters until I get it to look blurry enough. Then I take off my glasses! I have other programs that I use, too, but Elements is best and easiest to use. It was the best $100 I ever spent on a program, trust me! (And I think it was only $80 on sale--but having it now I'd spend $100 without a second thought.)

Back atcha, Jackie: I had a question about neutrals that you addressed in the warm/cool thread (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3928407#post3928407), which I'm transplanting in below--hope that's okay with you!

my understanding of "neutral" is that it is an "adulterated" version of a pure colour...adulterated, or modified, by either the colour's complementary, or by black or grey.

So, many, many pastel sticks could be considered "neutrals".

You can have different tones/values of neutrals. They can be warm or cool. They can vary in intensity.

How you use them is another thing - they can provide visual relief in a painting of predominantly pure colour for instance.

I think any sensitive painter will sense automatically when and how to use them.


Now tell me about what you mean by 'visual relief'! From color? Restful spots? Does this mean that neutrals are foils for color? Just thinking and asking questions out loud here.... :confused:


10-01-2005, 12:28 PM
Yes, I do mean "restful spots". A picture which is composed with lots of brilliant pure color can be quite hard on the eye, and to have a few softer, more "gentle" spots where the eye can rest a little is often rather pleasant and helpful.

tiny touches of unmixed colour used inside a large amount of neutrals do the opposite, they provide touches of excitement in the painting - a predominance of neutrals seems to make small areas of pure colour even more intense. This can be useful if you want, for instance, to draw attention to a focal area in a painting made up primarily of neutrals - you could use some touches of pure colour to take the eye to that area. Turner used to do this a lot.

One interesting thing to note. I did an interesting experiment a while ago, (using paint) by mixing some greys from black and white, and surrounding them with LOTS of red. The greys began to look green! It was extraordinary. They took on the complementary colour which the human eye "requires" to balance the reds. Did the same thing, but this time surrounded the greys with loads of yellow - and the same greys turned purple!

So much about colour is to do with what colours are beside each other, or what a colour is surrounded by. It is important to learn about colour, and understand the basics about the colour wheel, cools, warms, neutrals, primary colours, complementaries, harmonies, etc, but you have to always be aware that the "rules" you learn are subject to a vast amount of leeway when you take into account the INTERACTION of colours.

Does this answer well enough for you? I am not an expert colourist - I just had to learn a bit for my book writing! I am stronger, as a painter, with tone(value) than with colour.

10-01-2005, 02:53 PM
Thank you for the welcome Deborah, and don't worry about the dust. When I'm not using pastels, coloured, pencils or graphite, I'm using charcoal LOL!

10-04-2005, 06:21 AM
Thanks Deborah and Jackie for a great lesson.
I've learnt so much just reading this thread - my head hurts now - think I'll go and have a lie down..... :)


10-04-2005, 11:32 AM
Deborah & Jackie and all contributors... this thread is, of course, marked by Favorites.... i keep trying to get the word out to everyone not to miss it... thank you, thank you.... every time you two converse, some new pearl of wisdom drops out... i feel i'm making one of those 'add-a-pearl' necklaces that were so popular years ago...... :clap:

and i keep flipping back here for endorsement and encouragement while in the midst of mine dusties.... and managed to finish the following two as a present for friends, using all i've learned here.... (well, "most", anyway... havent digested it ALL yet).... and thankew again..... any comments appreciated....Kordelia

Kathryn Wilson
10-07-2005, 07:36 AM
I'm going to step in here a moment to comment on your paintings K. I really think all the lessons you learned in this thread show up in the first painting - really well done. My one concern (and this has nothing to do with greys as I am still learning too) is the the bottom of the cloud looks bowl shaped - I would flatten that out a bit.

I did a cloud painting that I just love quite a while back - will have to see what I've learned here can be applied to make the painting even better. Or maybe even a do over. (Edit: will have to re-take photo of painting! it was in my "perhaps save it for a rainy day pile)

Deborah, do you use any other palette combinations? I too would love to see what other people use for colors -

Bill Foehringer
10-07-2005, 08:49 AM
I hope to go to N. Wisconsin (Mercer) this weekend to catch the colors. If the skies are grey I'll be much more ready for having read this thread. Also thanks for the insight as to neutrals vs more saturated colors. Should come in handy. Thanks all!!!!! It's an iffy trip. I may leave tonight after work and then come back Sun. night. I want to catch the lake in its fall trappings. I've loaded the car with materials. Just have to top it off with a quart of oil and some ww fluid and I'll be ready to leave. BillF

Deborah Secor
10-07-2005, 11:39 AM
Sorry--I've been away for a few days taking care of my mom, and then couldn't get online! Im back now...

Kordelia, I'm glad this thread is of help to you. :) Those are some lively grays you've used!

I taught a class on greys and neutrals to my master group yesterday and it was fun. Yes, I do use other combos to make grays, Kat, though the green, orange, lavender combo is a favorite. I'll see if I can shoot a photo of the one in progress now and show you. I sometimes use straight complements to gray, but the triads seem livelier. Red/green makes a grayed color but it's overly simple--by adding blue or purple of the same value it becomes more interesting.

Good hunting for gray skies, Bill!


Kathryn Wilson
10-10-2005, 03:48 PM
Go ahead and laugh - I did when I saw the finished product. I was angry with someone and I guess I painted angry - :evil:

I should have taken photos - it went from a psychadelic mushroom cloud, to a cloud that aliens usually come out of in the movies, to this much more subdued :D thunderhead coming up over the mesa. I've painted this before and still don't get it - and I see that the mesa doesn't translate either.

Deborah, I tried the three tertiaries - do you have to be exact in the amount of each pastel - mine came out more green or blue than grey.

Oh, yes, this is on LeCarte pastel card - oi vey.

10-10-2005, 06:17 PM
LOL Kat....love your descriptions. I do wish you'd photographed the alien cloud for us....

This is really close, in my opinion. I'm sure someone will come up with some tweaking idea for you and it will be beautiful.

I haven't painted angry yet--I'll have to try it and see what I get!

Kathryn Wilson
10-10-2005, 06:35 PM
Well, next time you have a tiff with someone, go to the studio and have at it. It really is soul cleansing - :evil:

Deborah Secor
10-10-2005, 07:00 PM
Kat, try 'neutralizing' the greens (or any other color) using a complement of the same value, or by continuing to layer the tertiaries. You have to be sensitive--if it's too warm use a cooler color or vice versa. On La Carte, I don't know. On Wallis you can add more and more... I see yellows predominating here (my monitor?) so would add cool, pale blue-greens over and blend a bit. I think you could add a few more middle values intot he body of the cloud to give it some depth. The glow of the bright yellow is good!

I have a 'famous' painting (family famous) called Angry End, so I relate! You can see it here (http://www.deborahchristensen.com/Christian.html) on my page about becoming a Christian. :)


K Taylor-Green
10-10-2005, 07:07 PM
I'm not laughing, but girl I hope you feel better after this! Now, follow Deborah's advice and make this beautiful! Life is full of surprises.

Kathryn Wilson
10-10-2005, 07:13 PM
LOL - the psychadelic mushroom cloud - makes me laugh every time I look at it. LaCarte dark charcoal grey - interesting texture to work on after working on Wallis - it does take quite a bit, but blending gets painful.

I started with a cool green, a lemon yellow and a blue/purple that was quite dark. I did some swatches - so will upload those tomorrow. But when I put them on the charcoal paper, they just jumped off the paper - so I started to do my usual thing, trying to subdue everything down. The last is a grey umber.

I'm afraid I am quite lost on this one - until I actually see someone do it either on DVD or in person, I just not getting it. I see what you are doing, but can't emulate it. You are just going to have to come to Raleigh, or me there - no two ways about it - :)

Kathryn Wilson
10-10-2005, 07:15 PM
I'm not laughing, but girl I hope you feel better after this! Now, follow Deborah's advice and make this beautiful! Life is full of surprises.

Riiiiiight - I can see you all hunched over shaking and giggling - I know you!

Let just say this might be a happy "accident" and leave it as such. :cool:

Kathryn Wilson
10-12-2005, 01:38 PM
Here are my color swatches - as you can see, I tried to mix the layers, but wound up with too much of each color. Do you blend after each layer? Aarrrghh!

Dee, I know how terribly busy you are right now - but it sure would help if you could do one tiny little cloud, with each step that you do with the layers. I can be a very patient person - so do this when you have some free time.

Deborah Secor
10-12-2005, 03:01 PM
I'll see what I can do... Patience is a virtue, remember!


Deborah Secor
10-15-2005, 11:58 PM
I posted this in its own thread but mentioned I'd place it here, too. I haven't had a chance to shoot a close up, but I think you can see some of the colors I used to make my grays. Hope so!


It's on Wallis, the usual 11x17" in size, titled Morning Glow. I really wanted to paint that glowing sky as the perfect foil for the grays of the clouds. That's the power of neutrals and saturated colors working together--though these aren't terribly neutral clouds, are they? Still, they work, I think.

I'm still thinking about making that little cloud demo for you, Kat! Time allowing, I will...


10-18-2005, 06:30 AM
Deborah-What a wonderful lesson on grays here. I'm just now taking a look see and its the middle of October! I love how you've illustrated your teaching for us, and hope I can try my hand at creating grays in the next couple of days. Thanks you again.

10-27-2005, 03:49 PM
wow- fantastic skies and pictures here- really an inspiration to try some

Bill Foehringer
10-29-2005, 11:20 PM
Here are a few skies inspired by this discussion. I did them over Columbus day weekend. All plein air, of course!
The first two are 9x12 on Wallis and the last is 11x14 on WC Paper.




10-29-2005, 11:26 PM
Bill, these are gorgeous--especially that first one--I love it!!!

Bill Foehringer
10-31-2005, 09:41 AM
Thanks Kim. The rest I posted over on plein air forum but these had the colored clouds. It was a struggle all weekend. I was seeing things differently. I had a hard time telling if I was on track or not. Plus I ran out of some of my favorite colors, especially a dark blue by Girault. I thought I had another stick in the box, but no, so my distant darks had to be blued another way. What's more the sun was incredibly brilliant and I had no umbrella. I was painting in full sun out on the lake, very hard to judge values. The shadows look so dark. Not sure what to do about that because an umbrella would catch the wind and move the boat around even more. A second anchor aft would be required. As it was I often had an oar in one hand and a pastel in the other. In all it was a good experience because I was pushed and pulled in so many directions at once. I did 5 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday.
As for the colors in the clouds, they just jumped out at me. I didn't need to search for warm and cool regions in the clouds because the light was to clear and intense.
Thanks for lookin' BillF

Deborah Secor
10-31-2005, 11:08 AM
Wow, Bill! these are wonderful paintings! It can be so frustrating when that one color we need is gone, but it forces us to grow and take a few other chances. Your purple clouds in #1 are excellent, and the shine you achieved is really remarkable. Great sense of depth there. In #2 I admire the stroke work and broken color in the trees on the right side (but I really hope you'll consider cropping a smidgen off the other side so the yellow tree isn't in the center! :) ) In #3 the light is startling. Wonderful

How about investing in a good wide brimmed hat with a string on it so you can shade your eyes in the boat? Tht way you have one hand for the pastels, one hand for the paddle, and don't need one hand for your hat!

Keep on doing these!! They are great and you're growing by leaps and bounds--it shows. Love the different grays I see here.

Anyone else? This thread is about to slip into the halls of the Library.


10-31-2005, 04:38 PM
Just wanted to add that I'd love to see the video of Bill out on the lake, rowing and painting and holding onto his hat....

Deborah Secor
10-31-2005, 06:20 PM
:rolleyes: That would be worth seeing!


Bill Foehringer
11-01-2005, 09:53 AM
I did get a few looks from the people out fishing but they've all seen me out fishin' too and they know I don't use a motor to get around this small lake so they're used to seeing me flail around with the oars, LOL. Seriously the hardest painting to do was the third shown, the water was too deep to anchor so I was constantly drifting out too far. It's hard to row sittin' in the bottom of the boat. :) BillF

Deborah Secor
11-01-2005, 07:19 PM
Bill, you get the award for most perseverance toward capturing the perfect grays under the most daunting conditions! :angel:


Bill Foehringer
11-02-2005, 10:03 PM
My floating studio as seen earlier this summer.

I used the same set up this fall. As seen from the driver's seat.

11-02-2005, 10:09 PM
Hah!! I love it!!! I used to live at a lake that looked very much like that, and I spent a lot of time in a clunky aluminum rowboat just like that! Brings back fond memories...

Thanks for sharing this, Bill!

Deborah Secor
11-03-2005, 12:16 AM
Hmmmm, the makings of another article for the PJ here, possibly! I mean, I wrote about painters who work on location in the dark, so why not ones who work on water? LOL Love it, Bill!! Terrific idea.