Behind every cloud …

“May the friendships you make, Be those which endure, And all of your grey clouds, Be small ones for sure” – Extract from an Irish Blessing “Behind every cloud is another cloud” – Judy Garland   I have had an ambivalent relationship with clouds. I prefer bright sunshine. I In fact I have obsessively looked for bright sunshine and shadows to paint.  I have found the relationship between objects and their shadows exciting.
Oil painting of light and shadows on a Swansea steet.

Up Sketty

  This can be difficult in Wales where we can get days or even weeks of overcast or wet days. So when the sun is out I go mad, rush all over the place taking reference photos to paint later in my studio.  I have been guilty of often portraying Swansea only in its best light.  Someone once said I made Swansea look like a Mediterranean country.   Don’t get me wrong, on a sunny day it’s beautiful place and I have painted dark and rainy scenes too (see below) but not the rain clouds as I prefered painting bright blues skies.
Painting of car in a rainy night street

The Driving Rain (SOLD)

Oil Painting of gas station in the rain

That Petrol Emotion (SOLD)

I have never really been happy with how I painted clouds. They never quite came off the way I wanted them to. The paintings looked fine but I had not enjoyed the process of painting them. For a long time I could not quite put my finger on what it was that I was finding dissatisfying about the experience. So I did a bit of research and read up on something called “scumbling” and watched a video on youtube demonstrating the technique.
This is a way of applying paint with a dry brush to painted canvas. This way a broken layer of paint is added allowing the colour underneath to show through.  J.M.W. Turner was the king of scumbling. Think of that painting of his “Rain, Steam and Speed” where the steam train is emerging out of the clouds of rain and steam. This is my humble effort at scumbling. I was quite pleased with it but it did not pass the “praise test” with my husband, Seamas. He’s my most valued audience and source of feedback. It’s not that he didn’t like the painting, he just didn’t say anything at all about it. So I decided this technique wasn’t quite working for me. I watched a few more videos on Youtube where artists knocked off beautiful clouds in a matter of minutes.
This just seem to make things worse. I swirled the paint around on the canvas and it all just felt “lumpy” to me.  I scrubbed the canvas. Humph. I decided Youtube videos were great for tips on mending jeans or adjusting security lights but not for painting techniques. I had to find my own way. Or truth be told, I forgot about it for a while. Finally, I think I have started to make a break-through. It came from being in another country, Ireland, where the skies are full of constantly changing clouds. This was something quite different to the light of Wales. To start with I tried to painting bright sunshine, as I do in Wales. I like the light in these painting a lot. Then I was tempted by the landscape to explore the changing skies too. You can’t paint Mount Errigal without a swath of clouds around its shoulders.
Under the Shadow of Errigal

Under the Shadow of Errigal (SOLD)

I started to get sucked into the drama of the Donegal skies. I slowly discovered the key, for me anyway, is very thin layers of paint. After all, clouds are just water vapour. They are made of tiny fine particles of water. They are not solid things and this was where I had been going wrong, making them solid things. They are not. Ironically, this is what exactly what the Youtube videos were showing me but I needed to find my own way of doing it. I didn’t like painting a layer of opaque blue and then adding cloud on top. I prefered a number of very thin layers of paint.  The natural colour of the linen canvas I use, actually helped contribute to the colour of the “dirty” rain clouds.
Mount Errigal from Ballymanus Beach, Donegal

Mount Errigal from Ballymanus Beach, Donegal (SOLD)

So my clouds got thinner and finer. So that a puff of wind would move them along. Or light luminate them. So, I have started painting “overcast” pictures where the light is slivery rather than golden. I can be a challenge because the light affects all the colours, the greens are flater and duller and I am using yellow ochre and naples yellow far more than I do painting sunny Welsh landscapes.
Oil painting of Dunfanaghy and Muckish, Donegal

Across to Dunfanaghy (SOLD)

Painting of Arranmore, Donegal. Finally, my favourite recent painting is the one I did of Muckish mountain. I loved the massive rounded clouds that seemed to be echoing the humped shape of the mountain. I have only started feeling confident painting clouds and I think I have some way yet to go. Fortunately, I won’t be short of clouds to paint in Wales and Ireland.    

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31 replies »

  1. Great paintings. It is so interesting to see how you are developing so successfully the way you work, and the new emphasis on the sky and clouds in your pictures adds a fresh dimension.

  2. This is gorgeous stuff, particularly the last one. <3 That boat rocks so much! I like how you went about it and discovered your own way of doing clouds. And I agree, your blue sky paintings indeed have a Mediterranean feel and I would have been mighty surprised if I haven't been to a Dorset cove on such a day and seen images from Cornwall that look like Greece.

    • Thank you, Manja. Where I live looks completely different in the rain versus the sunshine. When the sun comes out it is transforned – so the blue skies are real, it’s just that I haven’t painted the skies with clouds or overcast skies as much!

  3. Wonderful work in this post. I suppose I am half in and half out when it comes to clouds, I love shadow play and so yes, the sun is key…but also love very strong, dark rainy skies. Living in Wales does give a good sampling of both, but as you say probably more of the latter.
    I could recognise your work anywhere…which is good, and have to say as much as I love the sunny paintings, I do love your rain pieces to. janet 🙂

  4. Very interesting to see your evolving technique for painting clouds! I would never claim to be a painter, but when I do paint, which is not very often, I tend to leave clouds to the end, and don’t spend too much time on them.

    • Yes, I used do that too. Then in the summer I decided that I’d start with the sky and work downwards. It depends on the subject matter, but I am aware that what ever you do last get less attention!

  5. I can see how, with your minimalist style, it would be difficult to portray something as nebulous as a cloud. Or even worse, a bunch of them! I think you’re well on the way to the best solution. And as usual with an artist, it wasn’t a straight path!

  6. Clouds are such beautiful things, but what a challenge you have chosen for yourself! Is part of the difficulty that there are so many different sorts of clouds? Voluminous cumulous or wispy cirrus? Do you use different techniques for each, or does the idea of painting water vapour carry you through? Sorry, I seem to have ended up grilling you, rather than telling you that I really enjoyed coming with you on your cloud painting journey!

  7. I love your work, clouds or no clouds. I really enjoyed seeing the two rain at night photos. They are really so dark while being bright with lights. In American cinematography they always like to wet the pavement in scenes on streets. Even if it has not rained they want that shiny reflecting quality of wet pavement. That is just something i learned from my husband and since he told me i have observed it to be true. Anyway much wonderful work in this post Emma.

  8. I do think you have the clouds nailed now….really love them. I find that buildings and landscapes with a solid sky are lovely and a simple sky doesn’t distract from the shapes and shadow below. But, many times clouds complete the picture and beyond shape and shadow give mood and so I am glad you are doing paintings with clouds now along with the cloudless skies. Really do think they are great!! Glad you shared this subject.

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