Watercolor painting of warm red sky

Painting the warm sky

The first step in our watercolor painting of a warm red sky is the highlights.

Before painting the full sky I wet the areas where the sun would be placed and into this dropped a weak mix (lots of water) of Cad Yellow Pale watercolor paint. I repeated this technique in the water area where the reflection of the sun would be. In the reflection I used some slightly duller version by adding a little bit of Cad Orange to the mix. This stage of this watercolor painting can be seen in figure 2.

This stage of the painting was done with the board held in a landscape position. I left it to dry fully before proceeding to paint the rest of the sky. If you do not wait until this stage is fully dry the rest of the sky colors will overpower this initial mix and you will lose your hightlights. It will also mean that you will not be able to have any hard edges in that area of the sky as is in my watercolor painting.

Under painting highlight area of watercolor painting.The lightest tones in the sky and reflections on water.

Under painting highlight area of watercolor painting.

Painting the rest of the warm red sky

While painting the sky I keep referring to my reference photograph to make sure I am following the general pattern of light and dark areas. I don’t follow the photograph blindly but just use it as a general guide. I have no hesitation either changing something in the photo or leaving something out if I feel it does not contribute to the overall painting composition.

The watercolor paints I used for this stage were Cobalt Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Cad Orange.

I start by mixing enough of each water color to comfortably cover the area of the sky. If you are unsure that you have mixed enough then double it. The mixed paint will not go to waste as you will use the left over watercolors for the water section of this painting. It will also be good for you to get an idea of just how much mixed paint you really need. Mix this paint to the consistency of full cream milk. There is no hard and fast rule for this and usually I would be saying that as the sky is normally the lightest part of your painting then you can go as light as you like and it should look OK. In this case however it is a relatively dark sky so your mixture needs to be a stronger than I normally advise.

The sky was painted with the board held in a portrait position (see figure 3) so that the water colors would flow parallel to the horizon line. Otherwise if I painted this with the board in a normal landscape position I risked all the colors flowing down into one another.

Painting kept vertical for watercolor painting of red sunset

Painting kept vertical for watercolor painting of red sunset

I made sure to leave some of the paper untouched where the sun is positioned. This gives my painting the greatest light.

This type of watercolor painting is where a spray bottle with a fine mist can be very useful. If you find that the sky is drying too fast then give it regular very light sprays with water to keep it workable. But don’t spray any area where you intend to create hard edges later – or you will end up with soft edges instead.

You have to use the spray bottle before the watercolor paint on the surface of your painting loses its shine, otherwise you will end up with large holes in the sky were the paint is washed off or if it has totally dried then spraying it will not be of any benefit. Remember if you keep the shine on your watercolor painting, you will not create mud! The shine I am referring to is what you see when your watercolor painting is very wet and the water covers all the little bumps on the paper surface. In this way when you look at the surface of your watercolor paper from the side you should see the shine on it caused by reflected light.

I left the sky to dry fully. You can see this completed stage in figure 4.

Completed warm red sky of watercolor painting of a dramatic sunset

Completed warm red sky of watercolor painting

Continue to: Painting trees and reflections with watercolor