Chasing the perfect clouds

Constable clouds

John Constable c.1824

This post began as I was searching for information on artists who used extra long brushes for painting, after a fellow artist-blogger had mentioned Matisse using this method. I knew that several of the old masters painted in this fashion but I drew a blank with finding out whom. The British artist Constable seemed to ring a bell, so I added his name to the search. But I could find nothing about his use of the long paintbrush either. However, I scrolled through many images of his paintings and quite by chance I found something altogether amazing (see above).

This was a series of sketches of clouds; a subject close to my heart. These were done in 1824, but could have been sketched yesterday. Whereas I like to use drawing mediums, his sketches were executed in paint, but done quickly, exuberantly, with little paint on the brush. It was hard to reconcile the bucolic pastoral scenes for which he was famous, with this loose expressive sketch. In a nutshell, I was inspired and determined to get some of my own loose sketches done. The first was in charcoal; approximately a three minute sketch.

clouds charcoal

quick charcoal sketch

I used ink-pen and a touch of charcoal for the second sketch, which took about 5-6mins.

clouds pen

pen and charcoal sketch

I was off to Christchurch for a week and took my drawing gear hoping to finish a few more cloud sketches while at my sister’s place. Ha! Each day dawned gloomier than the previous one. There was cloud, certainly; one entire sheet of the grey stuff, with the added nuisance of cool temperatures and constant drizzle.

Yesterday I returned home knowing there had been rain here all week too. This morning the change came, and when I checked on the state of the sky, it was perfect for drawing. Lots of stacked cumulus and peeks of blue sky. So, out came the sketch book and my pencils. I wanted to use a 6B but couldn’t find any pencil darker than a 2B. Just had to use what I had. This sketch also took about 5 mins.

clouds pencil

2B pencil sketch

And last, my mixed media attempt, which took a little over 6 mins. I was relatively pleased with this sketch, in which I used a mixture of conté, colour pencil, charcoal and watercolour on tinted pastel paper. I worked quickly, keen to use the white and grey chalks to create a scumbled effect, which Constable achieves so well with his light layering of paint. Plus, I didn’t want to overwork the sketch and make it messy, which can happen, and has been the case too often in the past. But this is the present and I’m so happy to be sketching once more. But sometimes it is good to look back at the art which has gone before.

clouds colour

mixed media sketch



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