Sky Positioning and Treatment

June 29, 2020

If one were to try and name the No. 1 watercolourist on the planet–or at least the most popular and followed–it would be safe to claim it is the Australian, Joseph Zbukvic:

A Joseph Zbukvic watercolour demo in progress…..

The word ‘master’ understates the enormous talent and skill Joseph Zbukvic exudes from his artistic fingertips as he transforms a sheet of white paper into whatever his mind fancies.

Taking a moment to view these examples of his prodigious output, one thing might stand out to us when it comes to focusing in on, and studying Mr. Zbukvic’s skies:

Joseph Zbukvic’s signature artistic decision is at odds with a great many of his colleagues, because he takes the daring approach of nearly always rendering his subject matter facing directly into the sun.

This has the effect of placing everything of interest–whether it be buildings, people, horses, boats, vehicles–more or less in silhouette, backlit and often somewhat mysterious. Making this choice provides any artist with a great deal of painterly latitude simply because, whatever we might be trying to view while looking directly into the sun, is going to be greatly lacking in detail. Looking into the sun, we see general shapes, outlines of things, and blurred, obscured objects and people.

Placing everything in front of direct sunlight means one doesn’t have to attend to minute detail. It means there will automatically be contrast, exaggerated shadow, enormous differences between light and dark, and all the drama a watercolourist needs to make a painting ‘pop’.

If one does a search of YouTube watercolour instruction these days, you will find a great many Zbukvic devotees, with their subject matter silhouetted against a bright sky. It has now become almost the de rigueur approach for aspiring watercolourists.

What is sacrificed by placing all subject matter in front of direct sunlight?

Skies.

All the luscious drama of cloud formations and subtlety of light which plays in, around and between the loveliness of clouds is the price one pays. Viewing Zbukvic’s work makes that seem worth it, at least for him.

However, as influential as some artists are, and deserve to be–for those bettering their skills, it is always important to remember that variety still remains the spice of life. All painters have their own unique painterly story to tell, in their own unique manner–and not all paintings need to be looking directly into the sun. I suspect Mr. Zbukvic would be the first to agree.

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