Painting Green Skies in Watercolor

Yes, I have been using cobalt green to paint beautiful night time skies.

But this story begins with me looking through my scrapbook of old paintings of Sasebo.

This is a place in Nagasaki prefecture, Japan and is famous for having over 200 islands.

Some of these islands have really strange, exotic shapes and I fancied painting them again.

I also thought I could tidy up my scrap book a little and get rid of some of the paintings that were a bit too scrappy.

Note: In reality this normally never really happens. I find out that the scrappy painting has something about it that inspires further paintings but I can’t quite capture the magic of that original scrappy image and so I keep it.

Above is the painting that inspired me to paint a green sky. As you can see it has a light green color in the sky as well as some white, which may be titanium white, and some really dark areas. It is quite an eerie sky but I like it.

I think this painting happened by accident. I was probably painting a scene of something that failed. And instead of wastefully just throwing away a sheet of expensive watercolor paper I probably kept it for doing doodles and experiments.

So you can see I’ve done some horizontal brush marks over the top of the paper. And at some point I went and painted those island shapes I’d seen in Sasebo.

I was probably just practicing painting those island shapes and not intending to make a full painting. But then I saw how those island shapes and that green background looked really good together and so decided to keep the painting despite it being so scrappy.

It is torn because I wanted to separate it from the rest of the picture that was probably very scrappy and in order to isolate the bit that was good.

Although this scrappy painting was the inspiration for my green sky painting, I didn’t really like the island shape in this image.

And so I used the painting below for painting the islands. I think the islands in this painting look really good.

And below is my first attempt at painting a green sky. 

I am really happy with this painting. I used a very watery mix of cobalt green in the sky as well as some titanium white. And then the darks are a mix of phthalo blue and alizarin crimson. 

The sky has a grayish green color, it almost looks blue or so I tell myself, but one thing it does look like is a night sky and a very dramatic and beautiful one.

I have often found when I’ve tried to paint a night sky with a normal blue it doesn’t work out so well.

I also charged the tops of the islands with cobalt green. That means while the paint of the island shapes was still moist I added pure cobalt green. And I let this cobalt green run down. I think it worked out really well.

And for the highlighted areas I used a mix of cobalt green and titanium white.

The painting is probably overdone but I kind of like that. I think it is very powerful and yes beautiful.

Below is a second attempt. In this one I went very strong with the cobalt green in the sky, perhaps too much. But I think it is good to push things and see what happens.

I also discovered that my big bamboo brush was the perfect brush for painting the fir tree shapes on these islands. I’m adding that as a note to myself. Sometimes I make these discoveries and then forget them.

I also hope though that you will find it useful too.

That’s all on the topic of green skies.

I hope that you will now go and paint a green sky. But also remember to have some fun because that is what it is all about.

Final note (partly to myself)

I realized that I should perhaps try another kind of green such as viridian – it could be interesting.


And here is a video in which I talk about painting a green sky.

Gareth Naylor

I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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