Creative Skies with Kieran Stiles: 20th April 2018

A challenging day awaited us as Kieran Stiles set about teaching us how to paint skies, and in particular, clouds, like Turner. Kieran is a professional artist who also teaches techniques and processes showing how a painting is made and put together. He admitted he was somewhat ‘obsessed with clouds’! Turner really influenced Impressionism but his main contribution was documenting the industrial revolution. Constable was friends with the gentleman who first classified types of cloud and so he didn’t just paint clouds, he was also classifying them. Skies and clouds are not just blue and white. Looking at a Turner painting one sees yellows, greens, pinks and violets making up the sky and the clouds.

This workshop was used to analyse how Turner painted a particular cloud – the one on the flier emailed around to members. We started with thumbnail sketches of the cloud print-out we had brought along …. or not, as the case was in many instances! Drawing gives you access to your subject and helps you understand it fully. These quick drawings looked at the tones in the image – light/mid/dark (always squint to look for tones).


 Tonal study

Kieran then gave a demonstration to show us colour mixing and dry-brush techniques:

The properties of colour are tone [light/dark], tint [colour] and saturation [how vivid the colour is].
Tone – to lighten add white; to darken add the complementary colour ie green to red if you want to keep the colour; adding black tends to kill the colour
Saturation – to de-saturate a colour use grey (a neutral) and make sure the tone of the grey is the same as the tint otherwise you will find you are lightening/darkening it.


  Colour       Kieran Stiles

Dry-brush technique:
Use a round, synthetic brush. We borrowed 8″ long ones off Kieran for this exercise. Hold the brush horizontal to the work and hover it over the surface using the edge of the bristles, and don’t push it into the surface. Don’t wrap your fingers round the brush – just clasp it with the tips of your fingers.
Load the brush with a lot of paint and apply it in a multidirectional manner to the surface
The paint remains as it comes out the tube ie sticky and undiluted paint – no turpentine or spirits to thin the paint
Pre-mix colours on palette
Don’t ‘twizzle’ the brush as you move it across the surface

This technique will give very textural, broken, colour and is something Turner used a lot. We set about practicing this technique using tone again but now in oils.


 Hazel Leach

Demo 2

Balance the elements. We don’t want texture everywhere so now some calm areas are introduced. Still using dry-brush technique we now pushed the paint on the surface to create a calm area of sky next to the textured area of cloud. This is all using the brush horizontally to the surface. Gradually build up the image working between the calm areas and the textured more abstract clouds. Remember to check there are no straight edges anywhere. Scrape off the paint when it isn’t working and go back to looking at the tone, the tint and the saturation.

 Kieran’s demo

Demo 3

This was now looking at a bigger painting of the actual cloud in the Turner image or one of our own photos. Start off with a base coat of broken, very dark colour in the rough area of the cloud, but not under the sky itself. A black and raw umber mix or similar. Then rub it in with your fingers or a cloth.
Then gradually start building the areas up, constantly tweaking the colours as they change in relation to each other. Put the dark and the light colours on and then the mid tones will be easier to discover. If the shape of the cloud has gone awry, use a pencil to redraw then and there. Once you get the structure going, start looking in more detail at the relationship of the colours to each other. It is actually a long slow process but well worth doing and go and look at the Old Masters to really see how they accomplished their work.

 Philippa Seebohm                 Rod Cargill

A few things to remember:

Definition between objects – use light and dark

Pare things back to simple shapes for light and dark to start with to show the basic structure. Details comes in later.

There is a push and pull between abstraction and realism when painting.

When asked, Kieran said he never paints like this – he was just teaching us how to paint like Turner! And we all learnt a huge amount about handling paint, dry-brush technique, subtleties of tone, saturation and tint and the fact that one really needs the patience of Job to achieve a good painting but it is worth putting in all the effort.


 Selection of final paintings







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Scroll Up