By Robert Austin
I live near Darlington in NE England in the UK, an area which experiences a wide variety of weather conditions! So, an appropriate location for paintings of skies.
My 'Skyscapes Watercolours' original paintings result from the fusion of my long standing interests in meteorology - in particular the study of clouds (nephology) - and watercolour painting. As such, I am a contributing member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, as well as being a keen watercolourist.
Fast changing weather conditions provide a rich diversity of skyscapes, and such diversity has informed the work of many photographers and musicians, as well as visual artists. So, for example, the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz related clouds to ‘states of mind’ in his ‘Equivalents’ series, while composer Claude Debussy wrote that ‘there is nothing more musical than a sunset’.
Inspirations for my paintings comes from a variety of sources, including first hand observation (including standing in the middle of a field in a storm!), my own photographs, and various books and magazines. Travel brochures for example often feature impressive skies as well as dramatic landscapes.
I used to paint skies in oils, but now consider watercolours to be an ideal medium to capture the forms, textures and subtle colours of skyscapes. Having initially drawn up some pencil sketches, in general I use the ‘wet on wet’ watercolour technique, and use rough textured paper. Applying paints in this way allows for subtle variations in colour and shape, and enables a combination of hard and soft edges to cloud forms. I often move and tilt the paper to achieve the effects of paints running into or over each other – think of rain falling from heavy clouds, for example. On some occasions, the accidental effects arising from moving paint around the paper can have beneficial results, while on other occasions the results can be a literal ‘washout’!
Colours of course play a key role in skyscapes. There are different types of ‘blue sky’ for example, ranging from the warm hue of Cobalt Blue to the cooler, more distant Cerulean Blue. Think also of the many shades of ‘grey sky’, and the various yellows, oranges and reds making up a dramatic sunset.
The variations of form and texture in skyscapes are influenced by a number of factors of course. The seasons have an important bearing – contrast the ‘fair weather’ clouds of summer with the storm clouds of autumn and winter. Also important is the time of day – contrast a misty early morning with the fading light of evening, for example.
Some of my paintings are specific to a location, while others purely focus on the drama and variation offered by skyscapes. In some paintings, I have dispensed with any reference to the underlying landscape, letting the sky colours and forms speak for themselves. But all my paintings show the rich variety of shapes, patterns and colours which are above us, and which influence our lives in so many ways.
My website at skyscapeswatercolours.com shows a number of my pieces, and I have chosen a few to accompany this article:
Skyscape over Ullswater, Lake District
Sunset over Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
Showers over Huntcliff, Saltburn, NE England