How To Paint The Sky With Oil Colours

oil painting of a sky above the plain

Posted On November 22, 2018

When painting the landscapes the sky is the element that defines the mood of your painting because it is the main source of light on it. Therefore it is very important to treat the sky as the basic element of the landscape and not just as the background. While painting you should try to add pigments to the sky and the land simultaneously adding some of the colours from the sky on to the land and vice verse.


In order to depict the translucence of the sky and the clouds the best, you should work fast and simplify what you see. Look for the main shapes and cover them with diluted paint then start adding details. Apply paint with different brush strokes and use pigments in different thickness to create an abundance of subtle effects that express the true nature of the clouds and the sky.

Creamy thick paint is good for depicting the incoming clouds while the thin spread of paint is used for painting of clouds in the distance and dark distant sky. To create the mist effect work wet on wet adding some of the colours from the sky on land and vice verse. Painting in that manner you get the light effect of air and lumination.

Shaping the clouds

Carefully study the structure of the clouds. The clouds are not flat they are three dimensional with very clear areas of light and shade. While looking at them it seems as if warm colours like orange and yellow come to the front plane since our eyes are sensitive to them and cold colours like blue, green and purple are in the back. You can use this contrast for shaping the clouds.

For example, bright areas of the cumulus can contain slight glimpses of warm yellow and pink depending on the weather and time of day. The parts of the clouds that are in the shade may appear grey or brown and for those, you can even use a bit of blue and purple. Don’t give them rigid contours because that will make them look like glued on to the surface and will destroy the illusion of the form. Partially blend the edges of the clouds with the sky that will make the sky look more natural.

paint brush sketching the sky with oil colors

Sky over the field

For this painting you will need the following tools:

  • Primmed wooden board
  • Round sable bristle brush number three
  • Flat hog bristle brush number four
  • Round hog bristle brush
  • Painting knife
  • Linen oil
  • Odourless mineral spirits

And the following colours:

  • Burnt sienna
  • French ultramarine
  • Lemon yellow
  • African black
  • Titanium white
  • Alizarin red
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Cadmium orange
  • Raw umber
  • Sky blue

On this painting sky is the main part of the composition with its dramatic shape and form. The narrow line of the land below is there just to be the base for the movement above it.

Apply the thin layer of burnt sienna on the board and let it dry. Use the sable bristle brush number three to sketch the details on the horizon with diluted burnt sienna. Start adding the wide tones of the sky and the land using the flat hog bristle brush number four. MIx different amounts of lemon yellow, French ultramarine, African black and titanium white to get a green colour for green areas on the painting.

Roughly cover the sky with ultramarine, white, a bit of alizarine red and grey gained by mixing different amounts of ultramarine, lemon yellow, black and white. Imply the characteristics of the scenery in the distance using some of the colours already mixed on your palette. Continue working on the sky changing the ratio of the already used colours.

Work on the entire painting simultaneously, moving from sky to land and back. Use round hog bristle brush number five to paint smaller clouds with swift brush strokes leaving the colours to blend wet on wet on the edges.

painting of the sky made with oil colors

Adding the texture

Start using creamier thicker paint and work on the mass of the clouds with wide brush strokes blending the colour wet on wet.  With relaxed strokes colour the clouds illuminated with sunlight with white colour which has a little cadmium yellow and cadmium orange added to it. For big light clouds on the horizon use the combination of ultramarine, alizarine, raw umber and a lot of white colour.

Create cold pale grey mixing ultramarine, alizarin red and white and add it slightly over brownish clouds near the highest part of the sky to create the impression of smaller clouds passing over the thick wide mass of cumulus. Use the painting knife to soften some of the edges of the clouds pressing it very lightly on the paint and blending.

Finishing the painting

At this point in the painting, it would be wise to have a little break. Just to rest your eyes so you will be able to see all the elements of the painting properly. Observe your painting, see what needs to be changed and corrected. On this particular painting, the mass of the clouds on the left is a bit too heavy. To correct it mix sky blue and white and add it slightly over the dark blue surface to make it look brighter. Then use white, burnt sienna and lemon yellow to brighten up the brownish area right above it.

Go over the entire painting adding details, mixing colours and softening the rims where that is needed. Soften the edges of the white clouds on the top of the painting and blend them with the blue sky next to them. After you are fully satisfied let your painting dry and varnish it with dammar varnish to protect it. The painting has to be fully dry to the touch and for that takes somewhere between a month or a year depending on the mediums used for creating it.

This is just one of the ways of painting the sky. I hope you enjoyed trying it. Always remember to experiment and observe. If you have any questions regarding this subject I will be more then happy to answer them, just leave them below.

Written by Magdalena

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