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Pastel Workshops How to Paint Sky

Updated on June 18, 2012
Moorland Storm
Moorland Storm

If you've read the first two hubs in this series, you'll have all the equipment to hand to start work, and you'll know how to put a painting together, so, it's time to make a start.

Most people begin a landscape painting by working from the top down, which for many pieces means starting with the sky. Use the tips in Composing a Painting, and decide where the light is coming from in your work.

Most skies, such as in this finished piece and darker towards the top and sides of the page, so choose a blue violet pastel and begin to put pigment on paper. Most skies are big, so use firm bold strokes all the way across the page and for an inch or two down. Next, choose a blue violet that's a tone or two lighter and again make bold sweeps across the page, working downwards.

Finally, choose a lighter blue-green and sweep this all the way down to the horizon.

You will then have pigment placed roughly where you need it on the page. Now comes the messy part. Ball your hand into a fist, and using the edge of your hand scrub over the pastel marks to blend the colours and really push the pigment into the tooth of the paper. This is where papers such as Colourfix and Pastelmat really come into their own. There should be no blank paper showing through.

To Fix or Not to Fix, That is the Question..

You will now have blue pigment covering all areas of your sky, this would be called your underpainting. It is your base layer over which to add detail. PROFESSIONAL PASTEL ARTISTS DO NOT FIX. There it is, in bold. Generally, professional pastel artists do not use fixative on their work, as it destroys the pigment. However, when you are learning, it is sometimes difficult to push the pastel pigment into the paper sufficiently to overpaint it, so if you are struggling, then fix the baselayer.

Now, it's time to work on your clouds. Most people think of clouds a white, fluffy things, but if you simply use white pastel, your clouds will be flat and one-dimensional in character. I tend to start off with a pale, creamy yellow, or maybe pale pink or grey. Again, make your marks on the page, then thoroughly push the pigment into the paper using your finger.

Assuming the light in your picture is fairly central, the clouds will have highlights at the top, and shadow towards the bottom, so choose a grey a tone or two darker than the body of your cloud and put in the shadow at the cloud base. Then, using white pastel add a few highlights at the tops of the clouds - no need to go mad.

The stormier the clouds, the more colours you could add and the darker you can go. This picture has dark browns, greys, pinks, yellows, whites and lilacs in, but if your painting is of a warm sunny day, you may only need yellow, white and maybe a touch of pale grey.

So that's really all there is to it. Have fun, experiment and happy painting!


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