Tips on How to Paint "Sky Holes" or Sky Behind Trees

Updated on September 11, 2018
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is a self-taught artist who loves sharing what she's learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.

How do you paint areas of sky seen through a tree so that they look natural and believable? Do you paint sky or branches first? Learn how foliage and thin branches change the color of the sky
How do you paint areas of sky seen through a tree so that they look natural and believable? Do you paint sky or branches first? Learn how foliage and thin branches change the color of the sky | Source

What Are Sky Holes?

Sky holes are simply the negative spaces we see in the structure of the tree. They are areas of light that break through a tree.

They occur where there is a break in the foliage, often alongside the trunks and branches.

Technically what you see are patches of the sky, however, you can't paint them the same color as the sky above.

Elements that Make Painted Sky Holes Believable

  1. Placement - Where you choose to paint the sky holes inside trees.
  2. Variety – Sky holes are irregular and organic, not all the same or equally spaced.
  3. Color – It’s usually duller than the color surrounding the tree.
  4. Value – It’s darker than the sky.
  5. Temperature – The color of the sky holes is cooler than the color of the surrounding sky.

Use sky holes as negative space to help the viewer define the structure of the tree.
Use sky holes as negative space to help the viewer define the structure of the tree. | Source

Where to Paint the Sky Between Branches

The trick to painting believable sky holes is in their placement.

If you observe trees around you, you’ll notice that sky holes are usually in between masses of leaves.

Look at the structure of the tree you are painting, and find those voluminous areas. Right in between the leafy areas it’s where you put the sky holes.

As always, “less is more.” A few strategically placed sky holes will depict the character of the tree far better than reproducing every one.

With a few well-placed sky holes John Constable rendered the structure of these trees. The Cornfield - 1826, John Constable.
With a few well-placed sky holes John Constable rendered the structure of these trees. The Cornfield - 1826, John Constable. | Source

Before Starting to Paint the Globs of Sky on the Tree

Stop: slow down and take your time. Rushing leads to messy sky holes that don't always make sense.

  • Squint: Squinting simplifies your reference tree and allows the light areas (the sky holes) to become more obvious. Look where they occur and what shape they are. They are not always round holes or squiggles.
  • Search: Find the sky holes and put them in. Place them carefully. Try not to rush.
  • Avoid squiggles, circles or "ornaments". It is advisable to keep at least one edge of the sky hole soft to replicate the refraction of light as it fights its way through the tree. Keep the shapes organic and varied. Avoid squiggles or perfectly geometric shapes.
    The "ornament" effect occurs when the sky hole value is too light or the edges are all too sharp. The marks look stuck on the tree rather than breaks in the foliage.

How About You?

Do you find painting sky holes challenging?

See results
Landscape with Viaduct, 1885-1887, Paul Cezanne
Landscape with Viaduct, 1885-1887, Paul Cezanne | Source

Rule to Adjust Sky Color: Make it Darker, Duller, and Cooler (DDC)

You cannot use the same paint color that you use for the sky around the tree, to render the sky between foliage.

If you paint the holes the same pastel color as the sky around, they’ll appear too light, ultimately appearing like Christmas lights.

In between the darker areas of the trees, the pure sky color would look too bright in comparison

It needs to be Darker, Duller, Cooler (DDC).

The reason why the sky holes require a slightly different paint color is due to the fact that what we see as holes - the spaces between the leaves and branches where the sky shows through - do not always show a clear view of the sky.

There are small branches and leaves within these spaces that may not be apparent to the naked eye, but act as screen for the light that comes through. As this occurs, the intensity of the light, both in value and color, is weakened.

The smaller the hole, the more small branches and leaves are filtering the light. To visualize the difference, imagine looking through a glass window (the big hole) and a screened window (the small hole).

The sky seen through the screen should be painted a bit darker, duller, and cooler than the clear sky.

Do You Paint Sky or Branches First?

There's no right or wrong approach on what to paint first. In general, I like to work from background to foreground, which means that I like to paint the sky first, thinly, and then paint the tree branches on top.

Trees over sky don't form sharp edges. The leaves and the small branches create lost and soft edges. When the paint is still wet, it's easier to blend the edges and keep them soft.

You can paint the area where tree and sky meets by mixing some sky color with the tree color, or scumbling.

Simultaneous Contrast

Every color's appearance changes i relations to the colors next to it.

We refer to this different perception of a color in relation to the colors surrounding it as simultaneous contrast.

Due to simultaneous contrast, if we paint both sky and holes the same color, the color placed in the holes, surrounded by darker colors of the tree, will look much lighter in comparison. It’s a visual phenomenon.

The Basin at Argenteuil,  	circa 1872, Claude Monet
The Basin at Argenteuil, circa 1872, Claude Monet | Source

Light Diffraction

Because the light coming through a sky hole is passing through a reduced aperture, it loses linearity of the light waves and results in appearing less bright than the sky itself. It is called diffraction.

Disclaimer

I don't consider myself a master artist, but I enjoy sharing with others what I know. I wrote this article hoping that it will help beginner artists in their creative process, not because I believe I “know” how to paint.

I hope you found it useful and enjoyable. Happy painting! : )

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Robie Benve

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Great tips on technique and style for this particular application. I enjoyed reading this and the examples were well chosen.

      • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

        Robie Benve 

        2 years ago from Ohio

        Hi BlossomSB, what a great story you shared! It tells very well the struggles of being an artist. : )

        Glad to hear my writing provided some useful tips, that's exactly why I am writing hubs: to share with others what I learn the hard way, hoping that it will help painters find shortcuts and ease the struggle. : )

        Thanks a lot for sharing your experience! Happy painting!

      • BlossomSB profile image

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        Thank you for that great explanation. Our artists' group had a competition recently; it had to be of a landscape, and as I had been invited to a wedding about 4 hours' drive away, I took my camera and got some good shots of the Grampians (the ones in Victoria, Australia). It was fun painting it and I was quite happy as I went along with the gardens, fences, the mountains and the trunk of an old gum-tree. However, the leaves and holes were another matter! I gave up and painted from a photo I'd taken a few years ago of a chasm in Central Australia - all rocks and rich colour with not a tree in sight! Still didn't win, but I was much happier with the result. I really needed those tips, so again - thank you!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)