PAINTING SKY, WATER in the landscape

I think these exercises were the most challenging subjects I had  ever attempted! Weeks and weeks of work went into this, looking at the work of other artists, drawing, experimenting with the paint, studying cloud formations, shapes made from running water.  It was a very frustrating time as I experienced failure after failure and I think it was made harder by the fact that, as a distance learning student, you were having to find the answers on your own.


I’d never attempted a sky before and I spent a long time just looking up at the cloud formations! I began as usual with the pencil – I’m so confident with the pencil that it means I can concentrate fully of the shapes , tones etc without thinking about the medium. I did several studies using graphite, charcoal and experimenting with marks to see how best to express the image on paper.  I followed this with about a dozen small studies in watercolour and was so grateful for all the time spent on washes prior to these exercises.  I found I needed once again to go back to mark making with the brush (it’s amazing how often one needs to return to this basic element to find ways of expressing ideas). The challenge was to find a way of expressing the softness of the cloud formation – sometimes in very clear light the outline if very clear but generally I was searching for ways to express softness and lightness. I found that lifting off the paint from the paper surface with kitchen paper was the most effective way of achieving a graded wash in the sky.

Storm clouds during the Floods

Storm clouds during the Floods



And I have certainly never painted water before! What a challenging exercise this was! The first exercise was a Still Life in Water. Its was interesting analysing the different tones. The parts of the image under the water appeared to be darker as I worked in pencil but when I began to paint, I found I needed to make the tones lighter…or perhaps they were more indistinct and duller.. Dabbing the paint off the page helped to achieve the right tones. I loved the shadows under the water and painted these wet-on-wet.

Still Life with Water

Still Life with Water

Still and Disturbed Water

Without a doubt this was the most daunting of all of the exercises! Achieving some degree of success in rendering moving water in paint took pages and pages of experimenting in my sketchbook. I worked from sketches, notes and photographs, I drew and painted, I tried mixed media, used pen and ink with watercolour and painted wet-on-wet freely as well as exploring the effect of very detailed images. The more I worked on the exercises and the more dissatisfied I became with the results, the more I came to see how crucial it was to get the structure around the moving water accurate. Otherwise it wasn’t possible to make sense of the image. I began to analyse WHY the water was moving, where was it falling from, what rock structure was around it to make it move the way it did, what happened to it when it hit a rock surface. This was a ‘blood, sweat and tears’ experience!! At the same time, I was exploring more with the masking fluid. Applying the fluid was the challenge.  I was searching for a way of eliminating the edges and bringing movement and energy into the application of the fluid. The breakthrough came when I realised that you can water down the fluid. As soon as I did this I was able to use it much more freely.


Pools at Wisley

Pools at Wisley

Coastal storms

Coastal storms


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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