Northern Realist Blog

Plein Air Painting Workshop: Sky & Clouds

1st June 2023, Tegg’s Nose Country Park, Macclesfield

View of Macclesfield Forest and Wildboarclough from Tegg's Nose
We had a perfect day for June’s Plein Air workshop focusing on the sky and clouds.

June’s Plein Air Workshop dealt with painting the sky. This is arguably the most important element in landscape painting, having such a profound effect on everything else. 

We met up at Tegg’s Nose Tea Room and over a coffee talked about the importance of the sky in landscape painting. We talked about the basic cloud types, how they form, dissolve and move as well as the effects of linear and aerial perspective. 

Then we went outside and spent some time just looking at the difference in appearance of the sky from the zenith above your head down to the horizon. We looked the variation in tone and colour and the way the clouds were moving on the layers or air in the vast space above us. 

The first task was to make some quick sketches in pencil thinking about linear perspective and how it can help make sense of the sky as well as the land. Particularly in relation to the point of wind (the direction the wind is blowing from and therefore which direction the clouds appear to come from). These sketches are really helpful because the sky is constantly moving. So deciding on a design and then using the sky as reference is much easier than constantly changing your painting as the sky evolves. 

We then made some tonal studies using monochrome paint to explore the effects of aerial perspective. The morning sky on the day was perfect for this with bands of cumulus and stratus clouds retreating towards the horizon. 

Northern Realist students working on monchrome tonal cloud study thumbnail sketches
Work on monochrome tonal cloud study thumbnail sketches

After a nice lunch and a chat in the Tea Room, we set out to explore the effects of colour using a simple three colour palette, sort of a ‘Zorn for landscape’ limited palette. This reduced the complexity of the colour mixing so that we could practice the principles explored in the morning. 

During the afternoon, the sky clouded over with nimbus clouds which meant that a slightly different approach needed to be taken. This, however was a useful lesson for landscape painting because above all, you need to be adaptable and paint according to the conditions.

Everyone taking part produced some very nice little studies and the development throughout the day was great to see. Thanks to everyone who came and made it such a fun day, I hope you all took away some useful knowledge, it was a certainly a pleasure working with you all. There is plenty more to look at in the sky concerning colour and light diffusion but that will have to wait for another day!

In July we’ll be covering features of the landscape, follow the link below for more info and booking.

Hope to see you there, Chris

Student working on a Northern Realist Plein Air Painting workshop at Tegg's Nose, Macclesfield