Monday, August 30, 2010

Abstracted cloudscapes - #1 & 2

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided to try something different for the series of cloudscapes I've decided to do.  I'd planned on posting these yesterday, but the photo of the second was really awful, so I'd planned to re-shoot it today.  It's been raining most of the day today, so instead, I just did some additional pp to it and now it looks much closer to the actual painting.

In considering how I wanted to approach these paintings, I realized that trying to decide on a format (landscape or portrait, and ratio) was a bit inhibiting as far as how I chose what to paint.  So, I solved that issue by going with a square 1:1 format.  In addition to lending a consistency to this series, a square also is ambiguous in its presentation:  it literally doesn't take sides.

I went through hundreds of photos and selected about 20 that offered a variety as far as colors, shapes and overall design features went.  Using a square crop, I chose what I thought was the most interesting composition from each photo.   This lends a very abstracted quality to them, placing them out of the usual context as being connected with the land, and usually, they are just a portion of a cloud.  As of the four I've completed to this point, they are done in a loose but realistic manner as far as colors and form go. 

I'll post them all here as I complete them - probably 2 at a time, since that's how many I've been doing a day - until I'm done, or have otherwise reached some natural conclusion for the series.  

Since this series is really more of an exploration and experiment for me, I'm trying to not get caught up on how well they turn out.  What I've also been doing is post-analysis of each one, to determine what I do and don't like about it, how well things work (surface, palette and blending techniques) or don't work, and what I need to do differently in future paintings.  

I expect I'll learn a lot from these, and perhaps some will be keepers.

abstracted cloudscape #1 - cirrus afternoon
pastel on #320-grit sandpaper
8x8 inches

These are cirrus clouds, a high-level cloud composed of ice crystals.  Cirrus can take many shapes and are usually characterized by long, wispy tails, called "fallstreaks", that are shaped according to the direction of the wind.

The photo this particular painting is based on was taken in the late afternoon, resulting in some warmer colors throughout the clouds - yellows, pale lavender grays, and even a darker reddish-purple in some of the more dense sections of the clouds closer to the horizon.

Cirrus are probably the most graceful of the cloud types, with long, sweeping curves.  In this painting, the movement looks stiff.  Plus, the main cloud is too dense.  I think part of the problem is that I blocked in the blue sky instead of covering pretty much the entire surface of the paper with it, and lightly layering the clouds in on top.  As these clouds seldom have sharp edges, I did a lot of finger blending to blend and soften them.  This also worked well to help define the swirls of the clouds in the lower third of the painting.  

abstracted cloudscape #2 - stormy underside
pastel on Strathmore 400-series paper
12x12 inches

This is a pretty close crop of the underside of a rain-laden cumulus cloud approaching sunset.  The darkest values are un the underside of the cloud, where no direct light is coming.  Slight tonal variations are visible in the forms of blues and purples based on the density of the cloud and the light coming through it.  The middle 1/3 of the painting is a distal layer of the cloud - lighter in value and with a curving shape.  The lighter section superimposed upon it are small "accessory" clouds that often accompany a cumulonimbus.  These are much smaller and thinner, and thus, much more light passes through them.  Finally, the lower edges of the cloud are in oranges and yellows, indicating that it's near sunset.  

I actually really like the palette for this.  I had to dial down the contrast and lighten the shadows significantly on the photo to get it to resemble the actual painting.  Even still, the painting looks far better in person than the photo.  Trying to get the loose, tattered shapes for the small accessory cloud, and layering the colors for the luminescent quality was probably the biggest challenge.  I was partially successful, I think.


  1. Nice! I'm very partial to sky paintings without any land in them. :)

  2. Honestly, your cloudscapes from a few months ago were one of the inspirations that popped into my mind when I decided to resume clouds again. I loved the soft, dreamy quality they had. And, of course, no land!


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