Sunday, October 30, 2016

Retiring Skies and Changing Light

Aaron Penley (British, 1807-1870) wrote an early book on watercolor painting. One of the principles he believes in is creating a sense of depth in a painting.
"One of the first essentials in Landscape Painting is the proper management of the sky, which should be made to retire, not appearing as colour or paint, but as air. It should be a representation conveying the idea of vacuity or space and not of surface, A clear and open sky is not, as the mere sketch would render it, blue colour, but rather a tone of the purest and most perfect character, into which the gaze can be made, as it were, to pierce ; and this cannot be effected by a simple wash of Ultramarine or Cobalt."

In other words it's easy to make a painting look like paint. It's much harder to make the surface disappear and to create miles of depth.

Thomas Girtin, (1775-1802)
When painting outdoors on partly cloudy days, the sun will spotlight some areas and other areas will drop into shadow. But you have to decide what effect you want to feature—and remember it— even as other exciting possibilities emerge. 

As Penley puts it, the artist "must take cognizance of different effects as they pass over the scene, and never lose sight of the impressions then so strongly made upon their minds." 

Or as contemporary painters often put it, "Don't chase light effects."

From "A system of water-colour painting : being a complete exposition of the present advanced state of the art, as exhibited in the works of the modern water colour school" by Aaron Penley free on


Glenn Tait said...

Joseph Zubkvik says that the sky is to the landscape as the eyes are to a portrait.

I took a quick at Penley's book to see if he talks of how to layin such a sky and he does, looking forward to reading more. Thanks James for another great link to the past.

GJ said...

Winslow Homer is said to have told his students: "Whatever else you may do, don't paint your skies blue," and when asked why not, would reply, "Because they'll look like hell if you do." GJ

Smurfswacker said...

How difficult it must have been to write a book on how to paint watercolors before it was possible to print color examples. Or monochrome examples. Or for that matter (as in this case) without pictures at all. Guess that's why the book contains so many formulae and recipes. It's also fascinating to see the big art-supply ad section in the back. Thanks for pointing me toward this book.