Painting Tip #1: A Simple Way to Improve a Sky Painting

A painting of clouds in the northern sky with field and trees

North Sky, 10x8, oil on linen panel.  2015-2017

For an artist there is nothing better than having good paintings on hand, ready to sell. And turning an old painting into a better one will make you happier than finding $100 in your pocket. Re-working old paintings gives you a chance to bring new experience to bear on old problems. And often you'll discover new problems when you look at the work with fresh eyes.
I've recently been going through my reject pile to see what is worth fixing and I pulled this one out the other day. A simple technique fixed a problem with the painting that had been there from the start. 
I'd done some changes to the upper clouds before (which I thought were now OK) and wanted to address the rest of the painting. I went back to basics and sketched out the design in pencil.
It was immediately apparent that the original intent behind the painting—a contrast of the landscape against the sky—no longer worked. The sky and land were now competing for attention in way that I hadn't anticipated.
In a moment of clarity I realized that an easy way to fix the design was to make the trees smaller; in fact, the whole "land" part of the landscape needed pushing back.
The old paint was dry so all I needed to do was sand it down a little then apply fresh paint. I did that with a combination of painting knife and brushes as I tried to match the original paint textures.
After two years, I finally have something to add to my inventory. The painting has changed three times since the original plein air sketch and it has morphed into a different landscape altogether.


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