#magrish_challenge_sky 2023 (+2022!)

For the last three years, one of my favorite sky painters, Maria Smirnova (@magrish on Instagram), has posted a three-week challenge at the end of November (#magrish_challenge_sky). Each week, she posts a black-and-white sky photo, and you’re invited to paint it in any colors you wish. I joined for the first time last year, and I participated this year as well.

2023 Challenge

Week 1

I replaced the Paris skyline with Boston. My favorite thing about this painting was the last minute decision to add super bright colors to the lit side of the buildings. The Hansa Yellow Deep pops, even bolder than the Naples Yellow Deep in the sky, and it mixes gorgeously with DS Quin Red (PV19) to make an electric orange-pink that photographs as bold as Opera. The buildings on the left used a drybrush effect to make windows smaller than I could have done individually.

If I were to do this over, I might opt for more contrast in the sky (it’s actually paler in real life, I bumped the contrast a bit on the photo). The amount of water, and the Lanaquarelle paper tend to wash things out a bit. I’d also use a ruler or masking tape so the water line is straight.

Paper: Lanaquarelle

Colors:

  • WN Naples Yellow Deep (PBr24)
  • DV Hansa Yellow
  • DS Quin Red (PV19)
  • HO Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15:1)
  • HO Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3)
  • HO Payne’s Gray

Week 2

This was just a fun one for me. It’s a bit messy but I decided not to sweat it too much. I decided to go for a bolder color than the Naples Yellow Deep and go all-in on Hansa Yellow Deep for a “postcardy” look. I got a deeper blue in the upper part of the sky by adding a bit of Payne’s Gray.

I masked the sun using a disk of masking tape cut out freehand, so it’s a bit bumpy/angular. I also should have waited until the sky way dry before painting in the water, and again used masking tape or a ruler.

Paper: Etchr Perfect Sketchbook

Colors:

  • HO Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3)
  • DV Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)
  • HO Quin Magenta (PR122)
  • DV Quin Red (PR209)
  • HO Payne’s Gray

Week 3

The shapes in the bottom of the landscape of the reference are again the Paris skyline, but from a distance the church spires looked to me like the spires of rock formations in the desert, so I went with that. I used references of the Sedona desert in Arizona to bring this together.

Paper: Lanaquarelle

Colors:

  • WN Naples Yellow Deep (PBr24)
  • DV Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)
  • DS Quin Burnt Orange (PO48)
  • DV Indian Red (PR101)
  • DV Quin Red (PR209)
  • DS Quin Red (PV19)
  • HO Quin Magenta (PR122)
  • DV Ultramarine Green Shade (PB29)
  • SH Strontium Violet (PV62)
  • HO Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3)

2022 Challenge

Since I never formally retro’d these (though I showed them on my post about Maria’s sky class), here are my entries for 2022 as well.

Week 1

I love the colors in this one. This is a standard Maria Smirnova cloud approach, with a gradient background and darker clouds scrubbed over the top in a mix of the colors. Maria usually does her skies in one go, but I did this one in layers, which allowed me to reapply the background and make sure it was bright enough before adding the clouds. I’m more satisfied with this one than my 2023 week 1, which I did in one go; the “one go” approach seems to leave things too pale for me.

The skyline is made-up.

Colors: HO Indigo, DV Red Rose Deep (PV19), HO Isoindolinone Yellow Deep (PY110), RE Spinel Grey (PBk26)

Week 2

I like the drybrush sparkle I got on the sea, though I found myself disappointed by the clouds, which to me look like negative painting – I don’t feel I achieved the illusion of white-against-blue. It’s really hard to do that ‘mackerel sky’ cloud look with negative painting. I’m still not sure what the best approach would be.

Colors: Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue GS, Indanthrone

Week 3

This painting is basically unfinished – I cropped it after the fact but it’s really just a splotch that comes to a rough end, with no attempt at a landscape. Still, there is something I like about the color combination, which to me hves a soft, ethereal, heavenly-cloud look. Compared to the Strontium Violet I used in 2023, I think the Ultramarine Violet has a more delicate, blue, floaty, cloudy look.

Colors: DV Ultramarine Violet, DV Ultramarine Blue, DS MANS

Conclusion

On the whole I think I like my 2022 runs at this more than my 2023s, which is a bit disheartening! However, I think there are some useful lessons to take from the six paintings as a whole:

  • Painting in layers is, for me, easier to get bold & bright than painting skies in one go.
  • Don’t forget to wait for the sky to dry fully before adding in the landscape.
  • I should pre-rule the horizon line.
  • There’s no such thing as colors too bold, bright, and cheesy for me.
  • Drybrush is useful for sparkle – on the sea or on buildings.
  • It’s always amazing how adding a bit of landscape makes an abstract sky suddenly snap into context.

Favorite sky colors:

  • Naples Yellow Deep – warm & slightly muted yellow
  • MANS – cooler & slightly muted yellow
  • Hansa Yellow Deep – super-bold and warm, postcardy
  • Quin Red/Coral (PR209) _ electric orange mixer
  • Quin Red/Red Rose Deep (PV19) – warmer, rosier Quin Rose
  • Quin Magenta (PR122) – sunset violet mixer
  • Ultramarine Violet (PV19) – ethereal clouds
  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) – blue sky zeniths
  • Phthalo Blue GS (PB15:3) – blue sky horizons, multi-useful mixer
  • Payne’s Gray – landscape silhouettes, night sky darkener