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Lifting Mist on Skye, Atelier Interactive Acrylics, (30x70cm)
Lifting Mist on Skye, Atelier Interactive Acrylics, (30x70cm)

Hints and tips for painting skies in acrylic


Rosemary Hale - Posted on 24 Jan 2011

I love painting skies and often give them great precedence in my paintings. Crucially, a sky’s mood and atmosphere will influence the colours and tones of the landscape below, and this should be taken into account when planning a picture. I link sky and landscape together with my choice of colours, tones or brushstrokes or, very likely, a combination of all three.
Acrylic is such a versatile medium. When applied thickly, with a brush or palette knife, it is opaque with excellent covering power, enabling the artist to paint light over dark or vice versa. However, when thinned right down with water, acrylics become transparent, and layers of colour will show through. Thick acrylic paint adheres to many types of surface (canvas, paper and mountboard, for example), whereas thinned down acrylics behave at their best when brushed onto good quality watercolour paper.
Different painting techniques will also apply and, in this article, I will be discussing those used with thicker acrylic, which is either only slightly thinned with water or used straight from the tube.


Hard or soft edges?

It is important to give a sky the vaporous, atmospheric character that clouds possess and it is the edge of a cloud that most puts this across. An unbroken hard edge against the sky colour will look like a cartoon, whereas a soft edged cloud immediately becomes more vaporous and believable.

How to paint skies

These soft-edged clouds (above) were painted onto dry sky colour. Before the pale cloud colour was dry, it was brushed gently across the blue to fragment and soften its edge. This can be done with either the side of the brush or with a fingertip

How to paint clouds

This hard-edged cloud (above) looks too solid and basic.

Light source
Switching between hard and soft edges is particularly appropriate if you want to suggest strong directional light, and it’s important to take into account where it is coming from. For example, if the sun is shining from the left, have dominant edges on the left-hand side of billowing clouds for good effect.

How to paint skies in acrylic

These partly formed clouds (above) look reasonable, but…

How to paint sunlit clouds

with the addition of white edges, they appear sunlit from the left.


Paint from a photograph - Peak District

Let’s see what can be observed about the sky from this photograph taken in Derbyshire’s Peak District (above).

General observations

  • The light is coming from the left.
  • There are lots of fluffy, white clouds that have a slightly diagonal drift, so they look ‘on and have shadows mostly on their bases.
  • The cloud edges are ragged – wet colour dragged over dry colour will give this effect.
  • In a few places the cloud edge is barely visible – blending colour wet into wet will show this effect.
  • The cloud shadow colour is purple-grey, warm in some places, cool in others.
  • Detail can only be seen on those clouds nearest to us.

While it’s not wise to copy the photograph exactly, because that tends to encourage a wooden, stilted look, some or even all of these observations may be used as a guide to help create a readable and therefore effective sky. the move’. This, together with the blue sky, suggests a bright and breezy day.

Detailed observations

  • The sky colour gradually changes from cobalt blue at the top to cerulean blue lower down.
  • Its tone lightens towards the horizon.
  • The largest clouds are at the top, becoming smaller in the distance.
  • The distances between the layers also become less in the far distance, ending with a compressed bank of cloud just above the horizon. This is linear perspective in action and, if utilised in the painting, will help to give a good sense of depth.
  • The clouds are lit at their tops

Painting of the Peak District using acrylics

Lathkill Dale, Atelier Interactive Acrylics, (23x30cm)

More helpful hints and tips on painting skies can be found in Rosemary's full article in the March 2011 issue of Leisure Painter.


Rosemary has also provided some bonus content to go with this feature, exclusively for readers of our regular e-newsletters. Email if you missed your copy and would like to read more.

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