Small Skies Clinic II (Twilight/Nocturnes)

A 1-2-3-wash painting of a sunset sky with jet contrails.
$45, 5-8 pm Pacific Time, Friday, 22 Jan 2021 Techniques suitable for twilight and nighttime skies for small paintings (postcard size to about 9x12") and not requiring stretching the paper. Does not require Small Skies Clinic I as a prerequisite. Does not cover illuminated clouds against complementary or darker sky colors, such as orange clouds on a turquoise sky (covered in Small Skies Clinic III) or light effects such as rays of light or sunrise/sunset scenes with the sun (or bright sunlight) visible between clouds (covered in Small Skies Clinic IV). Minimum enrollment: 4

(Does not require Small Skies Clinic I as a prerequisite.)

Skies have a lot of soft edges and smooth gradations of color. Watercolor is a wonderful medium for creating these effects, but that does not mean that skies in watercolor are automatically easy! Choosing appropriate techniques for the situation can increase the odds of success, though!

These “Small Skies” clinics focus on techniques suitable for smaller paintings (postcard size up to about 9×12″) that do not require the paper to be stretched.

Although some techniques will be useful for any small sky painting, each type of sky also has its own challenges, so each Small Sky Clinic focuses on one type of sky/lighting situation, as well. These clinics can be taken in any order (none is a prerequisite for another).

This clinic covers techniques for multicolored skies at twilight, darker clouds on lighter skies and nighttime skies. This clinic does not cover illuminated clouds against complementary or darker sky colors, such as orange clouds on a turquoise sky (covered in Small Skies Clinic III) or light effects such as rays of light or sunrise/sunset scenes with the sun (or bright sunlight) visible between clouds (covered in Small Skies Clinic IV).

Why not just use the techniques from my Watercolor Skies and Clouds course?

The techniques in my Watercolor Skies and Clouds course are the ones I use to give me the most control and best odds of success with larger, more complex sky paintings. That system is only suitable for stretched paper. It also requires ample time to allow washes to dry fully between the multiple layers of washes I use to build the sky in stages. They aren’t the same techniques I would use for a smaller painting on unstretched paper, or a painting that I wanted to complete more quickly.

For soft edges, we often rely on working wet-into-wet, but wet effects operate at their own scale. Suppose you take a postcard and a full sheet of watercolor paper, and dampen the surfaces of both to the same degree. A brushstroke on the damp postcard and a brushstroke on the damp full sheet will spread out and soften the same amount, but that spread will cover a lot more territory on the postcard! This makes it difficult to control very small soft-edged shapes.

For a smaller painting, it’s essential that we choose techniques to simplify and suggest the character of a sky, instead of putting in the level of detail we might be able to use in a larger painting. And we may wish to choose different techniques for creating soft edges that don’t require pre-wetting the paper.

If we are painting on unstretched paper, we’ll also need to be more careful about controlling the amount of water we apply, so we won’t want to use as many layers, keep the paper wet long enough to saturate it all the way through, or manipulate washes for a long period of time.

All of this means that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to painting skies in watercolor. You could use the techniques from my Watercolor Skies and Clouds course on a postcard, but it would be difficult, way too time-consuming and the odds of success would be low.

(Of course, there isn’t an exact division between “small” and “large” paintings, so some techniques from this course will be useful for larger skies, too, and vice versa. I’ve chosen 9×12″ as a general guide because that seems to be about the point where most people find it difficult to lay a sky wash without buckling on unstretched paper.)

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