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Old 09-21-2005, 03:58 PM
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Deborah Secor Deborah Secor is offline
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ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

LIVING GRAYS AND CLOUDY SKIES

PASTELS FOR GRAY SKIES

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... )

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:





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!

Deborah
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Old 09-21-2005, 08:28 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

WOW Deborah. Thank you so much for showing your palette and telling your technique.

I like the colors in the sky and in the clouds so much. Specially in the second one. Beautiful work.
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Old 09-22-2005, 11:34 AM
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Deborah Secor Deborah Secor is offline
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

Thanks Maria! I'm glad you think it's helpful. I hope some will add their own ideas to this thread...

Deborah
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Old 09-22-2005, 12:14 PM
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Mikki Petersen Mikki Petersen is offline
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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!
Mikki
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Old 09-22-2005, 01:45 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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.
Jackie
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Old 09-22-2005, 02:33 PM
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Mikki Petersen Mikki Petersen is offline
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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!
Mikki
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Old 09-22-2005, 06:37 PM
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Deborah Secor Deborah Secor is offline
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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!

Deborah
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Old 09-22-2005, 06:43 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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! )
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Old 09-23-2005, 11:08 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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?).
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Old 09-23-2005, 11:24 PM
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Deborah Secor Deborah Secor is offline
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

Kim, as I said, it's terrific! 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!!

And to answer Mikki's good question:
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1mpete
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.
Mikki

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!

Deborah
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Old 09-24-2005, 10:57 AM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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
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Old 09-24-2005, 11:04 AM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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"... Bali high...

Mikki
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Old 09-24-2005, 11:39 AM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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.
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Old 09-24-2005, 01:17 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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! )
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Old 09-24-2005, 01:30 PM
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Re: ESP-Sept. 2005--living grays and cloudy skies

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!! Kordy
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