Tuesday, March 11, 2008


A tree presents a complex silhouette against the sky, but the silhouette is almost never completely solid. A few “skyholes” puncture the shape of the tree and let you see through to the light beyond.

In this detail of a Claude Lorrain, there are fewer than ten skyholes painted in the lower third of the main tree. I’ve noticed that the early landscapists were sparing with skyholes.

This detail by Corot shows skyholes nearer the top margin of the trees. Some appear as fairly active circular shapes, which draws attention to them.

Constant Troyon, as seen in this detail, painted skyholes of various sizes, and gave them a ragged character, to suggest that they were fringed with leaves.

One question that every painter in opaque media like oil, gouache, or acrylic faces: Should you paint a skyhole with the same exact color as the sky beyond?

If you compare a photograph to the paintings we’ve seen, it appears much more complex and full of infinite variety. In the center of the photo I’ve placed the number 1 next to a prominent skyhole, and the number 2 surrounded by a group of smaller skyholes.

An enlargement reveals that while the larger skyhole does present an uninterrupted view of the sky, the smaller skyholes contain a network of fine branches and tiny leaves that weren't apparent from a distance.

These tiny interruptions lessen the amount of light passing through from the sky. As a result, these skyholes should really be painted a little darker than the actual sky color beyond.

Images from ARC, Link.

Tomorrow: Your Art-by-Committee Sketches


Erik Bongers said...

I don't know if you've noticed but this blog has a new post EVERY DAY, without exception !

I'm beginning to suspect that James Gurney is in fact not a person but secret committee of a handfull of people that devide the work amoungst each other and then bring it to public as if all done by one person.
The Art by Commitee is not just a sketch book, the commitee actually exists !
How else could it be ?
Travelling, lectures, writing and illustrating books, family life, outdoor landscape painting, working (a year) on a little National Geographic sketch, blog posts (and not just chit-chat), and blog comments and replies.
Although I haven't seen many blog comments replies the last couple of days...
Perhaps we should complain about that, but then maybe the person of the committee resposible for the replies has the flu this week.

Breathe deep, seek peas ?
My god, James Gurney doesn't have time for trivial things like breathing, let alone going to the grocery store !!

Charles Alexander said...

A fascinating topic. Thank you for posting.

craigstephens said...

Sky holes are harder than one might think. There's a million ways to get them wrong but when they're right they can really be cool. Thanks for shedding a little light on these things.

Jared Shear said...

Interesting to read about the slight value change in the sky between the different skyholes.

How do you approach the skyholes James?.....do you block in the shape of the tree first, and then come back in "cutting" out those holes with paint? Do you lay in you tree over a pre-painted sky and then adjust your holes and foliage from there? Curious to understand how you approach it.

Great post!

James Gurney said...

Hah, Erik, you've discovered my warehouse full of minions working 24 hours on the blog. Actually, you may have noticed the posts have been getting shorter while I've been on this leg of the tour!

Jared, yes, I usually paint the overall tree mass and cut the skyholes on top, working back and forth to weave the sky and foliage together. That is, unless I'm working on a sky panel, where the entire tree is worked on top of a finished sky.