The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Painting Sky Holes

I love trees. I love painting and drawing trees. But I have to confess a personality quirk that makes me want to paint every single detail on the tree. About halfway through, I get annoyed and understandably discouraged.

One of the challenges in painting trees is painting "sky holes," those bits of light you can see peeking through the leaves. You wouldn't think these would be hard to paint. But I've noticed that my biggest challenge with sky holes is not to paint too many, as that tends to look unrealistic.  So as part of my quest to *stop* painting every little detail, I looked for some tips on painting sky holes:
  1. Don't make them too regular in shape or size, or evenly spaced. They should be random but realistic to the type of tree you are painting.
  2. Use a slightly darker sky color for the sky holes. The light will be filtered by the leaves. Also, the eye is drawn to lighter color, and you don't want the eye to focus on your sky holes. Generally, the smaller the sky hole, the darker it should be.
  3. Don't have too many hard edges. Hard edges will make the tree look like it's cut and pasted on top of the sky, instead of being part of the landscape.
Here are some fantastic examples of sky holes:
Bob Rohm, "Spring Blue"

Dan Young, "At Home"

Kevin Courter, "Day's End"

And in this example from Kevin Courter, you can see that tree holes don't apply solely to the sky:

As Richard McKinley says,
Having dark, upright trees against a light sky produces one of the most beautiful and difficult to handle situations in the landscape: sky holes. The amount of visible sky holes depends on the density of the foliage, but as an artist friend often said, “You have to give the birds a place to fly in and out.”
Be sure to give the birds room to fly.


  1. Hey Monica, I was just reading on sky holes myself this week. 'Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting' One tip from his book: the smaller the hole, the less light comes through the hole therefore, the value will be darker and grayer. Hope you are having luck picking out the workshop you are going to attend. I've never been to one so I am eager to read about your adventures. I like the idea of giving birds room to fly.

  2. Thanks, M.A.! I'm having fun finding a workshop -- so many wonderful ones to choose from. Where can I see your art, by the way? ;-)

  3. Hi Monica,

    I wish I could show you my art. My art is hanging on my walls here. You are welcome to come over, I'll show you my galleries, and make you nice hot tea and scones. I think I have one recent painting on my blog but other than that, I've not posted any of my paintings online in some time. Not even taken any photo of them either. It's just a different path I am taking for now. I did find a photo of my cigar paint box from last year. I'm posting it on my blog if you want to look at how I did the clove oil pad.

    I am enjoying your blog. I wonder what kind of workshop you will take and who you will chose for your teacher. I just think your doing great with the landscapes already. Your talent is evident!

  4. Oh, and I will take you up on the tea and scones one day. ;-)

  5. Thanks, M.A.! You're the best. Went and bought some clove oil last week, as well as a thumbox paint box. Will share pics when I get it!