Watercolour New Zealand publishes Ron Esplin's Article on Watercolour Skies - 4th Mar 2014

Watercolour New Zealand publishes Ron Esplin's Article on Watercolour Skies

Watercolour New Zealand:

Growing from a small group of artists in Wellington in 1975, Watercolour New Zealand is this country's only society dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of watercolour painting.

It carries on the long association New Zealand has with watercolour, starting with the work of prolific early surveyors and scientists recording scenes and information for employers in Britain. The strong pure light, unique culture, landforms, bush and relative isolation from the rest of the world, have combined to give a recognisable New Zealand character to contemporary watercolour works.

Members, both professional and amateur, number about 400 and take part in a yearly calendar of events including workshops, critiques, painting days and major exhibitions.

The society is based in Wellington but they welcome new members from throughout New Zealand and overseas.

Quarterly Newsletter:

Watercolour NZ publishes a Quarterly Newsletter that is beautifully produced. It features events and articles by and about members and they also run workshops with competent specialist tutors from New Zealand and Overseas.

Invitation to contribute an article:

I was delighted to be invited to contribute an article, and the chosen topic was my approach to painting skies.
I am pleased to include the article in this Newsletter and I hope artists among you find this of value in your own artistic endeavours.

Painting Skies in watercolour: Ron Esplin.

I find most artists I know do not stretch the paper by wetting it first. They use 300
gsm not pressed paper or heavier and either fix to a board using masking tape, or
they use paper that is purchased in a block with the edges glued to hold the sheet
Wetting the paper sometimes affects the absorption properties of the paper, and I
like to be able to move the water and pigment freely over the surface. At the end of
the day it still remains a matter of personal choice.

Use a big brush:

Use plenty of water and oodles of pigment and use a big brush which may be a
wash brush or a mop. I have a favourite brush that I recommend to the people in my
classes. It is an Art Spectrum T300 White Taylon size 20. and in many cases the
whole painting can be done with this brush alone.
Pure white paper left for lighting effect or clouds can often be too stark and
unrealistic so I will most often do a preparatory light wash of Raw Sienna and make
sure it is thoroughly dry before continuing, otherwise you will end up with a green sky!

Paint wet on wet for successful skies:

The most successful skies are painted wet on wet, applied quickly with expansive
strokes, and the paper is attached to a board that you can pick up and move around
so the pigment is able to flow. I prefer Cobalt Blue to Cerulean because in my view
Cerulean blue is a little insipid, but I will mix a range of colours and be prepared to
be adventurous.
Drop pure pigment onto the paper while the first wash is still wet, then let the painting
paint itself by swivelling the board. I have often propped the board up against a chair
on a diagonal and watch it almost paint itself!

Boldness is your friend;

Be bold and be prepared to take risks, as you water colourists are aware that the
colours will tone down as they dry.
Rain can be conveyed beautifully by allowing the paint to flow under its own steam
on a wet underpainting by holding the board diagonally and almost perpendicular.
A looming sky needs magenta and Cobalt blue mixed to a dark mixture, sometimes
with a touch of earth colour to darken it even more. This is then applied to the
underpainting after you have re- wet it. Cumulus seems to work best if you remove
the paint to reveal the paper beneath, but after the white bits are dry, re-wet them
and drop dark shadow into the bottom of the white clouds.
Hard lines in a sky sometimes work, but generally you can choose to soften hard
lines with a damp brush.
Clouds can also be dabbed out with a tissue while the first wash is still damp.
If you are not happy with the sky after your first attempt, you can go in again when
it dries, but make sure you wet the whole sky before you do. If you do not wet the
whole sky, you will risk ending up with those unwanted balloons and cauliflowers.

Some problems can be corrected:

Some aberrations can be unavoidable, such as unwanted collections of paint
leaking out from under the masking tape and drying with an unsightly mark on
your otherwise beautiful skies. Two solutions to this, one is to use a damp, not too
wet, stiff bristled brush in one hand and a tissue in the other and rub it away while
dabbing it dry with the tissue. The other solution is to crop the unsightly bit from the

Try to do your sky in one hit:

I try to do a sky in one hit, but am often dissatisfied after it dries, so I am quite happy
to go in again later. If there is a mark or speck on the paper, leave it until it dries,
and only then remove it. If the speck persists use the reveal or conceal rule and
turn it into something else, a bird for instance, and add a couple more to make them

Do your own thing:

Rather than slavishly trying to reproduce your sky from a photograph, try
manufacturing your own sky. I like to contrast the dark elements of the painting
against the light parts of the sky, and the light elements against darker parts of the
sky to provide some drama.
Skies are not necessarily blue but can play a major role as part of the composition
and also be part of the story that you are trying to convey, an angry sky is much
more interesting than post card cerulean blue. Actually it is amazing what a range of
colours you can incorporate in a sky, reds, oranges, greys, even greens!

Use photographs as a guide:

I collect photographs of skies and have a “Skies” folder in the “Art Subjects” file that I
maintain in my computer.
Examining these photos and real skies will teach you that clouds are bigger close at
hand and get smaller thinner and closer together into the distance, and that clouds
have shadows on the underside.
It is a good idea to paint a series of skies just to experiment and perfect your
technique. Using masking tape to divide your paper into four allows you to do four at
once as practice pieces.
I enjoy painting imaginative skies, but I prefer to leave sunsets alone, as no matter
how accurately you emulate a spectacular sunset, people seldom believe it, and your
paintings do have to be believable.
Why compete with nature, I believe it is up to the artist to portray the ordinary things
in nature, and to point out to the viewer how extraordinary they are.

The article including illustrations can be viewed by clicking on the following link.
Watercolour New Zealand publis ... s Article on Watercolour Skies

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