View Full Version : the sky as a subject

02-19-2008, 12:06 PM
I recently had to write a magazine article about painting skies, and it was such a joy to spend some time researching the sky, as a subject, and producing some images for the article. I thought I would encourage some of you, who perhaps had not considered the sky AS A SUBJECT IN ITS OWN RIGHT, to have a go at painting a beautiful pastel sky.


I am looking forward to my usual trip to Greece in May; last year we had some stunning skies to paint, and I plan to get up early each day, as John Constable did, and do a daily sky study.

Paula Ford
02-19-2008, 12:17 PM
Hi Jackie,

This is so beautiful!!!

I have often wanted to do some sky paintings, buy they are so difficult for me. Seeing this painting really makes me want to try though.


02-19-2008, 12:22 PM
Hello Jackie, such a glorious sky! Very inspiring, makes me too want to try one, but they are tricky, especially to get the glow just right, as you did.

Thank you for showing one of your masterpieces!

nana b
02-19-2008, 01:40 PM
Hi Jackie, I love your beautiful sky! I love doing skies and clouds and hope to get better.


02-19-2008, 01:56 PM
Good idea. Maybe we can keep the topic going. Here's my contribution:

On the site handprint I came across a reference to a pigment, indantrene or indantrone blue, which the author claims is the best match for the actual color of the clear blue sky. It certain is here in New York City most of the time. Winsor Newton makes a set of 4 tints of indantrene blue which I use a lot for skies.

On the other hand, here in NYC the Met just opened a huge show of Poussin's landscapes. In these landscapes there is the famous "Poussin Blue" in the sky which is a slightly dark turquoise like the top part of Jackie's sky.


Deborah Secor
02-19-2008, 02:46 PM
Jackie, that is gorgeous!! I'm doing a sky article, too, of sorts, thus thinking about skies a lot now. I sure would love to be going to Greece with you in July! I've never been to that part of the world but it looks enough like the light and palette here, with WATER added, that I seem attracted to it. I'm sure it's unique and special, as witness some of your incredible paintings from the area I remember seeing.

The saturated turquoise in your upper sky, the one that Richard mentioned, looks a lot like a Schmincke color I'm fond of using, though there's no telling what the reality is from any pic here.

One of the things you've done so elegantly here is to make smaller shapes lower on the horizon, and the sweeping clouds above (and closer) somewhat larger. It gives the sky grandeur! Beautiful control of colors, too, with the golden clouds farther away, the purer white nearby, and that lavender atmosphere--wow! What size is this one, Jackie?

So glad you shared this. :D


02-19-2008, 06:00 PM
This is lovely Jackie. Thanks for sharing. I'd love to be able to read your article too.

I grew up on the Great Plains of North America where the sky scapes were unencombered by mountains or cities. From a very early time, I've always enjoyed looking at just the sky, and one of my favorite subjects to paint is "just sky and clouds". Being able to create the many moods of a sky is one thing that made pastels an almost instant preferred medium for me.


alaskan rose
02-19-2008, 10:26 PM
Beautiful, Jackie! We lived in Greece for several years, you should have some wonderful skies to paint not to mention the colors of the Mediterranean Sea! Enjoy!

02-20-2008, 05:01 AM
thanks everyone for all your lovely comments.

This is not a huge pic, Deborah - quite small in fact, only about 12"x12", painted on Wallis Belgian Mist.

Re the blue of the sky - the photo does not do the painting justice; there is a very obvious gradation, the sky at the very top of the picture is considerably darker than the sky seen thro the clouds towards the horizon.

Re the comment about the "blue sky" colour one can buy, this reminds me of the other thread I responded to yesterday, about the colour of shadows, when I mentioned a tutor who had recommended a particular shade of purple for all shadows.

When reading up about skies, I learned something SO interesting about the blue of the sky. It may be a bit long, but it is worth reading,and is helpful I believe. here is an extract from the article I eventually wrote:

"Science tells us that the atmosphere surrounding our earth is a layer of vapour and gases, no thicker in proportion to the earth than is the shell to an egg. The atmosphere is made mostly of the gases nitrogen (78%), and oxygen (21%). Argon gas and water (in the form of vapour, droplets and ice crystals) are the next most common things. There are also small amounts of other gases, plus many small solid particles, like dust, soot and ashes, pollen, and salt from the oceans. Outside this layer of atmosphere there is absolute darkness – no “daylight” such as we know it, exists out there for there is nothing to hold or diffuse light rays. Just cold, black, space.

When we look at the “blue” of the sky, what we are actually seeing is the black void of infinite space seen through a film of “atmosphere”. When I first learned this fact, it made me feel quite queasy; I have never viewed the sky in quite the same way since! (I also learned, when seeing the movie The Bucket List, that the sky from the summit of a mountain in the Himalayas, is virtually black because of the lack of atmosphere/thinness of the air at that point. Proves the theory!)
Why, though, is the colour blue? As light moves through the atmosphere, it bumps into gas molecules, which absorb light waves and then reflect them, i.e send them out again. Blue has a higher frequency than other colours and is easily absorbed. The absorbed blue light is then radiated in different directions. It gets scattered all around the sky. Whichever direction you look, some of this scattered blue light reaches you. Since you see the blue light from everywhere overhead, the sky looks blue."

A really important thing to recognise is that the sky at the zenith (above your head) is a very different blue to the sky at the horizon (which is why I take issue with the purchase of any one colour of blue for a sky). When you look up, there is less "atmosphere" between you and the blue of the sky. So, the sky above your head will be a warmer, more ultramarine, deeper blue, than the sky at the horizon. At the horizon, the blue of the sky is affected by many, many layers of atmosphere, therefore the blue is weakened, lightened, and cooled down - here is what I wrote in my article:

"At the zenith, above your head, you will find violet-blue, this descends into “true” blue (ie no obvious bias towards red or towards green), and then slowly the blue becomes a green blue and gradually lightens in value, eventually the blue disappears and very pale creams/oranges/pinks appear to be visible.

However, just before we reach the ground, the sky grades down to a more rosy hue towards the horizon, and this rose-grey colour gradually darkens and becomes a warm, rosy-grey haze. This darkening of the sky just before we reach the horizon, or ground, happens because the densest atmosphere is at the earth’s surface, and any colour or light is filtered dramatically before reaching the eye of the observer. It is often so dense that it almost casts a shadow! This is why the sun, which cannot usually be viewed comfortably with the naked eye, turns into an easily-observed red ball at the horizon when it is setting or rising."

I hope those of you who might like to tackle a sky, might find these comments on the blue of the sky, helpful.

Now clouds.....and weather......that is another whole issue!

02-20-2008, 08:48 AM
Very nice piece Jackie! I am very partial to the wonders of the atmosphere and I enjoy immensely the sensation you have provided with your painting.

I find, when painting a sky, one can't help but feel just how small we might be in the grand picture of things. It's vastness can be overwhelming at times, and yet, it can be that which connects each of us to the earth and to one another. The sky I see in the morning, though the hue may be different here in Massachusetts, it is the same sky that will be seen by my friends each day. The evening stars, are many of the same stars that will be seen by Peggy on the West Coast, and many others in between, here in the Northern Hemisphere.

While I may paint a scene of New England's coast that may or may not convey the power of the sea, to somebody in the heartland who may not easily relate to such a piece if they have never experienced the roar of surf upon solid shore, the sky with its neverending blue, is something to which we all can relate, and helps to ground us to the earth and our place upon it and as such brings us closer to each other.

(Of course, hopefully I have succeed to capture such a maritime sensation that they could almost smell the salt air, but I digress.)

When I am away on painting ventures and my family remains at home, at night I will often look up and wish them good night, knowing that as they look skyward they are viewing the same as I and can almost hear my voice causing each star to twinkle as it bounces and ricochets to their hearts and home.

To capture the sky well, whether it is it's deep blue, an approaching storm, or glorious sunrise or sunset, allows for instant connection between viewer and artist and compels them to walk hand and hand through the remainder of the painting and enjoy the other sensation conveyed therein.

Sorry, didn't mean to ramble. I wish one and all well, and happy painting.

02-20-2008, 12:24 PM
This is a wonderful sky Jackie. I would only add that the color in the sky changes every day and every season. I live in a place where the humidity can change from day to day. On my daily walk I paint the sky virtually. Differently times of day, changes in temperatures, changes in the season, and humidity, all effect the color and value of the sky.

02-20-2008, 01:04 PM
Oh my. Thank you for the very well written extracts from you article Jackie. Reading it reminded me of a commercial running on our radio stations where a little girl asks her father, "Why is the sky blue, Daddy?" and he replies, "To match your pretty eyes." She then proceeds to tell him he isn't even close and the correct answer is close to what you've written. It is a commercial advocating math and science for girls through Girl Scouting. Now with your well written description of the "blues of the sky" artists can understand as well. Oh yah - and I really liked that you incuded weather and clouds are another aspect of coloring, but in a different manner. Will they also be addressed in a future article?

Jeff ol' Left Coast Buddy! It's been ages since we communicated. I didn't know you are a poet too! LOL You're comments read so poetically I can "see" exactly what you mean, and in a beautiful way too. One thought though - you may see stars and they are the same as ours, but I had to laugh at you thinking I can really see them very often! If I'm at home and it is one of our few cloud free nights, I have to work pretty hard to see stars because I live surrounded by trees, and the only stars I can see are directly overhead. I find that most frustrating on a lovely summer night because one of my other favorite activities as a kid was laying on the ground and seeing stars from horizon to zenith. However, when I visit my sister outside of Oklahoma City, it is great fun to float in her swimming pool after dark and watch the sky. One time there was a fabulous huge orange "Harvest" moon to follow as it rose in the sky - breath taking and spiritual all at the same time. I agree with you Jeff. The sky is a universal connection for all human-kind.


02-20-2008, 04:48 PM
What a glorious sky!:heart:
You certainly did a great job of "painting the atmosphere" as well as the "shy"!
I would love to be going to Greece, too!
I love scenes with white Greek buildings, vivid sky, and sea.
Take us along! Well, at least, show us some of your results when you get back! :D

02-20-2008, 08:00 PM

Thank you for such a wonderful post. I love this!! I am inspired to do more sky paintings. I always thought I needed a focal point but why not just the sky? As always your views and posts contain such a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.

02-21-2008, 03:27 AM
of course, time of day and season will most certainly affect the sky - I didn't mention those aspects because frankly, I could go on and on, but chose to pinpoint just one or two aspects. It is a huge subject, I have now written two articles about it, but could actually have written a book!

thanks for all your comments.

02-21-2008, 08:39 AM
Hey Peggy!

Well, then I guess you missed last evening's lunar eclipse! :-) I live to close to artificial light that it is often difficult to see many of the stars during the evening. However, just down the road I have 2200 acres of woodlands, and that offers perfect viewing of the evening sky. When meteor showers occur, I often trek up there to watch. Poetic!? I am flattered. I hope you are well, and yes, it has been quite a while. Life does that far too often, keeps us out of touch, but even so, you and your family, and the tales of the "Great North Wet" are always in my thoughts, and I visit your site fairly often.

Jackie, thanks again for the wonderful post.

02-21-2008, 09:26 AM
of course, time of day and season will most certainly affect the sky - I didn't mention those aspects because frankly, I could go on and on, but chose to pinpoint just one or two aspects. It is a huge subject, I have now written two articles about it, but could actually have written a book!
Gee, I was only attempting to add to the conversaion......

02-21-2008, 10:53 AM
Gee, I was only attempting to add to the conversaion......

??? did you take my comment as some kind of criticism? I was actually only agreeing with you!!!!!!!!!!:) and kind of apologising for not mentioning these obvious omissions.

Sometimes I so hate writing stuff down, particularly being a Brit amongs all you guys from across the pond. You often put a different meaning to my words. This is a great example -- read this to yourself aloud:

a woman without her man is nothing.

Now read it again, with punctuation perhaps in a different place to the place you put it:

a woman, with her, man is nothing.

See what I mean??????????

02-21-2008, 10:56 AM

Thank you for such a wonderful post. I love this!! I am inspired to do more sky paintings. I always thought I needed a focal point but why not just the sky? As always your views and posts contain such a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.

well...........actually I think all painting subjects benefit from a focal point, even a sky picture - if the eye does not have somewhere to settle at some point, it might wander off and out of the frame!!! So, sorry to disappoint, but just cos you choose the sky dont mean you can dispense with a focal point in your picture! It is a fairly fundamental element of design.

I am glad you were inspired! Yes, do paint some skies, it's fun!

02-21-2008, 11:12 AM
i think pastel does a most wonderful job when working with skies. i almost feel like i'm 'cheating' when i do a sky, they are so fun, usually getting to use some colors not always brought out of the box. and somehow pastel just makes those clouds so dreamy!

i love to paint sky and love to see other's works of them as well. interesting article jackie, i never thought of it that way!

i also rather like hearing someone from 'across the pond', even your typed words have an accent! and i think there are some different points of view from our different locations, all of it is just great!

02-21-2008, 11:15 AM

I think key to the sky as subject effectiveness is to not have definite
other landscape elements present. I was trying to paint sky as center of interest, but made the mistake of making a cliff and rocks etc., as part of the picture, too definite. What happened was attention was taken from the sky and put too much on the cliff and rocks as a weak center of interest: both flopped. I learned a good lesson from those paintings.
You have some landscape suggestions in you painting, but the did not distract from your glorious sky!:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

02-21-2008, 11:53 AM
[quote=jackiesimmondsSometimes I so hate writing stuff down, particularly being a Brit amongs all you guys from across the pond. You often put a different meaning to my words. [/quote]

Oh Jackie I so understand what you mean! I've had the same problem with people from different regions on this side of the pond! :lol: When I was exhibitions chairperson for the International Assoc of Pastel Societies ('97 - '05) I communicated with people from all over the world in a business way (different from WC in that respect). I quickly learned to be very careful about wording information and yes, punctuation was very important! Personally, I enjoy your writing a lot, and your instruction is invaluable for all of us. and I agree with Chewie "i also rather like hearing someone from 'across the pond', even your typed words have an accent! and i think there are some different points of view from our different locations, all of it is just great!"

Jeff it wasn't fair last night. We had enough overcast that we couldn't see the eclipse, and then when I went to bed the full moon was so bright I could see the glow through the blinds! The dogs and cats have been exceedingly frisky the last couple days - even my usually more sedate senior female dog & female cat. Either spring is on the way or they too are enjoying a full moon. Your little girl must be almost a teen ager now - I remember you writing about her when she was pre-school age. Now I have pre-school grandchildren! :eek: Maybe we can finally meet in person at the next IAPS convention since finally it won't be over Mothers' Day in 2009! :clap:


02-21-2008, 01:21 PM
Hi Peggy,

Yup, she turned 13 in January! She's standing right here next to me hounding me! Today is my birthday and she wouldn't get out of bed to take me to breakfast, and now she's trying to make up by hounding me to go to lunch. So, I guess I'm off to lunch. Too bad you missed the eclipse, but another is coming in 2010. I too hope one day that our paths cross so that we can meet in person. Until next, do take care.

02-21-2008, 01:25 PM
of course, time of day and season will most certainly affect the sky - I didn't mention those aspects because frankly, I could go on and on, but chose to pinpoint just one or two aspects. It is a huge subject, I have now written two articles about it, but could actually have written a book!

I guess the words "of course" and "certainly", and "frankly" are words that on this side of the pond come across being rather emphatic.

02-21-2008, 02:18 PM
Had to laugh at this......if you emphasise the first "of course" and then the "certainly" and finally the word "frankly", I come across as a real tartar!!! Like I am saying emphatically OF COURSE.....(implying "you silly person")...etc etc.

I am so sorry....MY ONLY INTENTION WAS PURELY TO AGREE WITH YOU!!! When you say that sentence to yourself, as if I was busy nodding my head agreeing with everything you were saying, "yes, of course, you are quite right..." and softening those three words, or phrases, it comes out completely differently.

Words can be dangerous things when they are mis-read, can't they

02-21-2008, 02:44 PM
I had to laugh with you when I read your words. It seems that people who paint enjoy words as well. Hope this finds you painting, as well.

Deborah Secor
02-21-2008, 07:04 PM
Not to mention, Deborah interjects, the fact that with the Quick Reply function unless we already know and type the code for the smileys we don't use them as much as when they were readily available. I find a sentence with a :) or :D or :wink2: or :rolleyes: or :o after it has a totally different sense to it, no matter what words are used! I remember early in my time here typing something very innocently and having someone come down like a hammer on me. When I explained, she pointed out that a smiley would have changed it all. I became a smiley devotee overnight! :D


David Patterson
02-21-2008, 11:12 PM
Deborah is right!:rolleyes:

Sorry...couldn't resist Deb!:D

02-22-2008, 02:09 AM
What a great suggestion:thumbsup: :clap: I shall become a devotee too:lol:

I don't want any hammers or upset readers any more:eek:

Ok now I must go and try to feed my:cat: Am so worried about my mature puss of 3 yrs, who has now lost his appetite completely and refuses to eat since I brought in two new kittens, (he has done this before and lost LOADS of weight when his sister was run over, we thought we might lose him). Now I have to decide whether to keep, or sell, the kittens. It's miserable here.:(

02-22-2008, 08:55 AM
I, too, enjoyed your sky, Jackie....both the painting and your words describing the science of the colors/colours. :D

I really enjoy reading these posts and seeing how folks deal with written words. I love the icons, personally. Sometimes a joke is lost when you can't see the person's face. These funny little faces help a lot!

I have :cat: :cat: and they're both laying on my compupter desk right now watching me. I wish I could see what's in their minds!:)

Thanks again for sharing....

02-22-2008, 01:31 PM
Well I have :cat: :cat: :cat: :cat: of the little darlin's, and my daughter-in-law is a receptionist for a :cat: only vet. They are difficult creatures to figure out sometimes. :confused: We got a female Ragdoll, Maggie, when our lovely Teddy was run over (no more outside cats here!), and right away I knew I wanted a male, Murphy, to go with her - not to breed, but as a companion. they are now 7 years old. Over the years I've found one of each works best. Then last winter we had an irresponsibe neighbor who was putting 12 week old kittens outside in the freezing weather. She'd "rescued" them from a friend who lives in an apartment, but didn't know how to go about finding homes for them :eek: (can you say she's not too bright?!) Anyway, d-in-l told her about their cat registry and all found good homes accept one that couldn't be caught. We got one of the all black shorthaired males, and hoped for the best. Well it went just fine until he got old enough to want to play rougher with Maggie than she was willing to accept. By this time the last kitten was caught and living at my other neighbor's home - the neighbor who has a ferel cat colony compound. On a trial basis, I brought Al's brother home to see if they'd still play, and sure enough it worked just fine. :cat: I named him Max - short for Maximum Number of Cats in This House! Max has long mostly white fur, but his tail is a huge black plume. He is also the most friendly and laid back of all of them, and allows the 22 mo old granddaughter to be pretty rough without scratching (although we don't allow it if we see it). So Jackie, what sex are your kittens? If male, your older male may feel competition. If female there should be hope of his accepting them, and if one of each he may be wondering where he fits into the picture. Or being a :cat: maybe none of the above! :D Jackie I wish you and your kitty crew all the best.


and what this has to do with skies I can't imagine, but I just had to comment. :) Yes! icons are the best for depicting emotions we can't otherwise express. :thumbsup:
Oh no! I've just learned we are limited to 15 images and I used 16! :crying:

Deborah Secor
02-22-2008, 01:48 PM
This has become Smiley Central! :D :D