My head is always in the clouds – literally! I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico where the elevation is 7200 feet. The vast skies and ever changing cloud formations here inspire many of my paintings. I use three different painting techniques to create the ocean waves in my paintings. I use these same techniques to create skies with fluffy white clouds. In this article I describe two of those techniques. The third technique is one I invented, so it is very unusual, and offers great results with acrylic paint. That technique can be found here.
These techniques will work the same way whether you are painting clouds or waves. They will also work with oil paint – just substitute solvent for water when diluting the paint.
Blue Horizon, 20″ x 20″, acrylic on panel
Hidden Rainbow, 26″ x 34″, acrylic on panel
Technique #1: Resist Washes on Glossy Surfaces
Step 1. Apply a blue base coat color if you are painting a sky, or use a variety of dark blue colors if you are painting an ocean.
Step 2. When your basecoat is dry, make your surface glossy by applying a coat of acrylic gloss medium over the painted surface. Let dry.
Step 3. Heavily dilute Titanium White acrylic paint with water to create a “wash”. For a wash add 60-70% water to any fluid acrylic paint color, or add 90% water if you are using heavy body or thick acrylic paints. Apply the wash liberally over the glossy surface so that it moves around when the surface is tilted like a big watery puddle. Leave it alone to dry. This is the hard part – not playing with it. If you move the wash around too much, or don’t have enough water in your paint, this technique won’t work.
Step 4. When the wash is dry the white will puddle up into interesting patterns and shapes, allowing the blue underneath to show through. Repeat the previous step using blue paint instead of the white, and making a wash in the same way, if the previous step revealed a white that is too opaque. If you don’t have enough white repeat step 3 using the Titanium White again.
Nancy Reyner, Canyon Landscape, acrylic on panel, 20″ x 20″
Technique #2: Classical Painting Techniques
Paint clouds and waves using traditional or classical painting techniques. The historic Old Master painters from the Renaissance and earlier, had been doing this years ago. Many contemporary painters, myself included, still use these techniques. Technique #1 described above occasionally produces happy accidents, but not always results the way I want. Technique #1 is an uncontrolled technique and won’t always give the desired results.
Traditional painting techniques usually involve applying paint with a knife or brush, while adding mediums to make colors more transparent. These primarily used oil paint. If using acrylic, you can imitate these techniques by slowing down the drying. Do this by adding retarder to the paints, or add a slow drying medium to the paints. The best option is to use a slow drying acrylic paint like Golden’s OPEN line of acrylic paints. By using paint color in layers, and by adding mediums to make paints more transparent, you can build up with optimal control to obtain the effects you want.
Here are some examples of paintings with clouds and waves, by other artists using classical painting techniques, which often result in images that are more detailed and realistic.
Below are two paintings by 19th Century French Master, Gustav Courbet.
Left: www.pixelcreation.fr Right:www.conceptart.org
Courtesy of www.pixelcreation.fr, and www.conceptart.org
Video demonstrations of these techniques as well as many more, are included in my DIY acrylic painting course, The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting.
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