The sky sets the tone for landscape art; even in graphite. Get it right, and you have an excellent landscape drawing.
Get it wrong…. Well, lets don’t go there!
Clear skies can be difficult enough, with all those subtle gradations of blue. Add a few clouds and the difficulty increases.
A stormy sky?
The lighting may be dramatic, but is it possible to draw a stormy sky that looks realistic?
I’m using the direct method of drawing for this demonstration. I’m also using Prismacolor Thick Lead/Soft Core pencils unless otherwise noted. You should be able to match colors in whatever brand of pencil you prefer if you don’t use Prismacolor.
How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil
Step 1: Laying a Foundation – Slate Grey
I chose Slate Grey for the foundation color because it’s a cool color (as opposed to a warm color) and it combines gray with a strong blue tint that’s ideal for dark and stormy skies.
Since my sample also features a brightly lighted foreground, I wanted a cool color against which I can later contrast all that bright, warm, foreground light. Your stormy sky might do better with a warm gray. Try a few colors and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just do most of your experimenting on scrap paper first!
Outline objects that overlap the sky then fill in around those objects using the point of a very sharp pencil and light pressure. In the trees in my sample, I used circular strokes and light to medium pressure to fill in the gaps around the edges of the trees and within the foliage. The strokes are so close together, it’s difficult to see them in this detail, but the type of stroke isn’t as important as getting an even layer of color.
The darker areas around this yellow tree are the result of several layers of Slate Grey. The lighter areas (lower right) are fewer layers. The lightest area has no color at all.
TIP: Unless your stormy sky is flat gray, it’s important to begin defining values from the beginning.
In the open sky, I used light pressure and horizontal strokes with the side of a well-sharpened pencil. I overlapped strokes and used multiple layers to create the lights and darks that represent breaks in the clouds.
I also layered flat color into the trees overlapping the sky. This is the method that works best for me because it gives me a better sense of the landscape than the line drawing.
TIP: Unless the paper is extremely smooth, the texture will appear through the color layers when you use either a blunt pencil or the side of the pencil. The lighter the pressure, the more “broken” the color will be. Make use of the paper texture in the sky, where it helps create the look of clouds with a minimum of work.
Step 2: Darkening the Sky
I continued layering Slate Grey over the sky, beginning with a sharp pencil and light to medium pressure to work around and within the trees. As before, I outlined the outside edges, and the edges of the “sky holes” before filling in the shapes.
But I continued to work even after the pencil had become blunt. The broader tip of a blunt pencil helped me cover more paper more quickly. It also lets the texture of the paper influence the color. As the pencil grew more blunt, I increased the pressure slightly to medium pressure.
I also alternated between horizontal strokes (visible on the right) and vertical strokes on the left). I layered with horizontal strokes first, then added a layer of vertical strokes.
However, the type of strokes you use is not as important as getting the look you want. Use whatever strokes work best for you and the type of paper you use.
In this illustration, you can see the outline on the right and the filled in areas on the left.
TIP: Continue developing the variations in light and dark established in the first step so that although I darkened the entire sky, there were still light and dark areas when I finished.
Step 3: Dark Umber
Using a sharp pencil and light to medium light pressure, I outlined the trees overlapping the sky, including the sky holes within each tree. I didn’t outline the horizon because I wanted that edge to be soft and blurred.
Then I layered dark umber over the darkest areas of the sky, keeping the pencil as sharp as possible. Around the trees, I used directional strokes. In the open sky, I alternated between horizontal, vertical, and cross hatching strokes to get the most even coverage possible.
In the darker areas, I drew more layers. I actually worked around some of the lightest areas so the cool, blue-gray color wasn’t muted by the brown.
Step 4: Ultramarine
Once again, I used a sharp pencil and medium pressure to outline overlapping objects. Then I used medium to medium-heavy pressure to lay down color. I varied strokes and layers to continue developing variations in value and color.
Step 5: Slate Grey & Cool Grey Medium
I used sharp pencils and medium pressure to outline the areas that overlap the sky.
Next, I burnished the darkest darks with Cool Grey Medium and the slightly lighter areas with Slate Grey using blunt pencils and overlapping the colors. I did a couple of rounds of burnishing to completely cover the paper in the areas where I wanted intense dark, such as the left part of the sky and the upper sky.
In this detail, the top portion has been blended with both colors. The lighter, rounded area between the trees still needs to be done and the dark streak through the middle of that is a single, heavy application of Cool Grey Medium.
The light spots on the horizon have a pinkish tone compared to the darker sky. I layered Clay Rose with medium heavy pressure at the horizon in each place, then followed up with Rosy Beige applied over the Clay Rose and between the Clay Rose and the clouds. Finally, I burnished with White.
This illustration shows that area near the center of the drawing. There is another left of the yellow tree, visible as soft, light color in the following illustration.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
Once I finished burnishing, I let the drawing—and my hand—rest for a while. I usually allow drawing to sit for 24 hours before a final review. Sometimes, I find that they are finished.
I went over this drawing one final time, adjusting color and value to the get right look.
Once the rest of the landscape is finished, I’ll go over the entire drawing and make whatever final adjustments are necessary.