With this new painting I’m trying an old technique common in the 18th century that is (at least for me) totally crazy; working on a dry background. Painting a blue cloudless sky, letting it dry completely and only then adding painted trees, clouds etc. on this blue surface. Taking advantage of one of the great strengths of the oil paint technique usually requires painting wet into wet. Personally it’s a joy for me to push around gobs of paint using a large brush and spontaneously creating wispy clouds, dark approaching storms and glowing sunsets. I have a lot of experience working like this, and it is how I made the powerful sky in the Downing’s Town painting.
I’ve actually never done this wet on dry before, so I am a little nervous about how it will turn out, but also excited for the new possibilities! The basic idea is that by painting wet onto dry you can have more definite lines, greater detail, (the elaborate rope rigging on an old sailing ship for example) and sharper edges in general because the paints aren’t blending. This technique is great for detail work but pretty much destroys the possibilities for atmospheric effects. The necessity of choosing between atmosphere and detail is one of the fundamental insights of Impressionism, who chose atmosphere very deliberately. So why am I using a detail-oriented approach when I aim to paint something as amorphous and atmospheric as clouds? The main reason is artistic curiosity! I want to explore using a non-intuitive method and seeing if it creates something interesting. Ultimately, I don’t know if my sky in this painting will seem all that different from my other works, but I’m looking forward to finding out!