Painting the Spitfire
A detail of the sky from one of my railway paintings.

7. Deputising a 1940’s Sky

About getting the sky to fit in the painting and a missed photo opportunity
(Part 7 of a series on creating an original Battle of Britain oil painting)
At this point, despite now being itching to get started on the actual painting, I had a good trawl through my huge archive of sky photos. I have been taking these for years. I often find myself out with a camera several times a day to photograph the sky. I find the changing lights and cloudscapes so beautiful and, as will probably be obvious to anyone who has looked through my galleries, I love to feature them in my paintings.

There is a huge amount to be said for looking at the skies a lot too, not just snapping them with a camera. The camera’s view is surprisingly different from the eye’s perspective where the skies are concerned. It seems as if the camera has a lot more trouble coping with the wide range of lights and darks whereas the eye can scan a very varied skyscape and form a more consistent perception of the overall the range of tonal values. I find that as long as I bear this in mind though, the pictures make great references; somehow real skies always seem to work better in the paintings, than ones constructed in the abstract on the canvas.

Sky reference picture 1

These two sky pictures were taken at the same time, in the same place. The sky looked the same to me while I took them, which clearly shows how different the camera's view is from the eye's perspective. (These are two of the reference photos I used for the Spitfire painting.)

A second sky reference picture

For this reason, I like to find a sky view with its own cloud formations from my photos to use in a painting. Even if I go on to change it around or add extra or take away from it, something of the reality of the observed one seems to stick. I think an awareness and understanding of cloud types and weather conditions is quite important too. I like to think that all those years of working on the land and trying to second guess the weather to get dry hay crops in, and the like, stands me in quite good stead in this respect!

For this painting I ended up using an amalgam a few pictures of similar skies, all taken around the right time of day and looking in the correct direction to fit with the viewing angle of the painting. I found it necessary to use several, as the painting is quite panoramic in form. There is a fairly dramatic depth of perspective, with the clouds to the left being nearly overhead, with the leading edge of this bank of clouds tailing off into a more distant cloudscape to the right in the picture.

Finally, I felt ready to start the painting! As I have discussed elsewhere (LINK or title of blog) this first phase of the painting is often my favourite part, all creativity and nothing to lose.

I don’t usually take many pictures during the painting’s progress, but I do usually take one after this first phase is completed. Well, it appears that for this painting, I didn’t even take that! I think that I will have to do another account about a different painting sometime, going into more detail on the actual painting process, and I will make sure I take lots of pictures as I go.

But to stop my account of this painting here seems a little wrong, it would be like writing a story without an ending! So I shall talk through the rest of the process, and will at least try to illustrate it with some close ups from the finished painting, so that you can get some idea of what I’m talking about!...