How to Paint a Sky Using Acrylics

This article will discuss how to paint a sky using acrylics. Since this is about the sky, let's do a clear day at noon at Lahaina, Hawaii.


  1. Image titled LahainaHolyInnocents600
    To paint a sky use two of the Real Color Wheel transparent primary colors, transparent cyan PB15 and transparent magenta PR122. Adding white to the transparent colors makes them opaque, painting transparent washes will give the same colors because of the white background.
    • The easiest way to paint the following gradations is to make a set of opaque acrylic colors first, ready to be blended. Wet the support first to make blending easier.
    • For the skilled acrylic artist, it can be done fastest using the transparent washes of these two transparent primary colors, magenta and cyan. The painting above was done with transparent washes,
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    Wet the substrate gesso so you don't get any lines when you paint the first color in, either as an opaque or as a transparent wash. Darker cyan at the top and thin lighter cyan at the horizon line.
    • A layer of jar white over the gesso and dried will make your gradations even smoother.
    • There is no cyan in the corona of the sun.
    • Let the transparent cyan dry before adding the transparent magenta, wet the support again. The darkest magenta corresponding to the darkest cyan. The magenta is darkest at the top and non-existent at the horizon line and just a very light tint in the sun's corona.
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    Paint the sky color gradient that goes from light cyan at the horizon line and an equal amount of darker cyan and magenta at the zenith. The zenith will be an ultramarine blue hue.
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    As you get real close to the sun corona there is no cyan so that the tint of magenta is all that is seen. For an opaque application a tint of magenta is another pre-made color, or you can add white to transparent magenta. Transparent magenta will work fine.
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    Paint in the clouds over dry sky colors or wipe them out from wet sky colors.
    • Keeping the opaque colors or transparent colors moist will allow you to "wipe out" clouds when the sky colors are done. It's always best to under paint white first on the gesso and let it dry. Your next colors will go down smoother and a wipe-off will have finished paint under it.
    • Clouds can be made with opaque white over the dry transparent or opaque paint. Two coats of jar white acrylic, which is thinner and smoother than tubed white are necessary to block any color underneath from showing through.
    • To make the dark underside color of a cloud, add the third transparent primary, yellow PY150. All three transparent primaries mixed together will make a neutral dark, a tint of this neutral dark will make the neutral gray seen under clouds.
    • Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue will also make a neutral dark as the "under cloud" color. I use this same neutral dark for my shadow colors in a morning painting because it's very easy to move it to the cool side. Because of this great feature I also use this combination in foggy and rainy day paintings.
    • My afternoon shadow colors are a combination of magenta and green, evening shadow colors are a combination of red and cyan.


  • Acrylics dry darker, whereas water colors dry lighter, oils dry the same color but yellow over time. Acrylics, fresco and water colors won't yellow.

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Categories: Painting