Cast Shadows 4: The Wider Landscape and Cloud Cover

July 12, 2020

Sun and Cloud near Malham: pastel by Jo with a bright middle ground

This week we are going to consider the wider landscape, especially the effects of partial cloud cover and the shadows of passing clouds.

Except for the pastel painting above the illustrations are photographs taken in Yorkshire, where the hills are such that cloud shapes can often be seen as shadows on the hills or gaps in the cloud cover bringing patches of extreme brightness to the landscape.  There are also more subtle cloud shaded areas where the clouds are not visible as whole shapes with clearly defined edges, but their shadows make their presence visible as dark grounds in the distant, middle or foregrounds. 

Farmhouse near Malham: note the bright middle ground which gradually merges into a darker background of hills and a darker flatter foreground.
View of the same farmhouse; this time with a bright foreground and middle ground and a darker background beyond the trees. Note the strong tree shadows and directional light from the left.

Images of works by the landscape artists referenced can be found added to my Cast Shadows Pinterest Board at

When there is wind and patchy cloud cover this makes things hard for the en plein air painter as the tones can vary in seconds and changes in tone can even mislead the eye into failing to read the topology of the landscape correctly.  This should never deter you from working outside and gaining that firsthand experience of the landscape. It does mean that whether sketching as a preparation for painting, or painting outside, you have to watch the landscape and decide swiftly on where the shadow areas are and stay with this decision throughout your study.  Cloud shadows can change far more rapidly than shadows caused by the elevation of the sun at different times of day.

Towards Winskill Farm

Starting with Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of 1810, Landscape in the Reisenberg we see a small low lying part of the landscape with a hamlet and church bathed in an island of light and dwarfed by the dark mountains behind in a similar same way that my photograph of Winskill Farm is lit by a gap in the cloud cover in the Yorkshire Dales just a few miles from Settle.  Do look at the post referenced, scroll down till you get to the image of Friedrich’s painting and read about our reaction of awe when observing dramatic scenery on a large scale, of particular interest to those of you excited by exploring the psychology of art forms.

Towards Winskill Farm twenty minutes later after a shower passed through

Two contemporary artists I have referenced are James Naughton:  Evening Glow in the Lake District where again pools of light are surrounded by the shadows of cloud cover on the land, and Jenny Aitken.    Jenny Aitken’s:  Showers and Sun, Derbyshire was a prize winning work in the Artists and Illustrators Artists of the year competition 2012 and I did see this work at the accompanying show.  Here we see a swathe of middle ground in sunlight with a dark foreground and suggested shapes of the cloud cover in the distance.

Clouds on the hills from Winskill Stones

Another artist who often features the shadows of clouds on the land is Oliver Akers Douglas and very often the whole shapes of clouds are evident as darker and more muted versions of the underlying hues.

Going back again in time an American artist Edgar Payne produced compositions from the Grand Canyon and many mountainous regions, and while the cast shadows in his works were very often from the rock formations he also took great care over  depicting the prevailing weather and cloud conditions as in Desert Rain.  I have learned a great deal about composition from looking at his works.

Lastly do look at the vintage rail travel posters;

1948 Harry Riley: Barmouth  North Wales for BR; shadows of clouds extend from sea and on to the sandy beach

1961 Ronald Lampitt for BR :  Hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales;  blue grey cloud shadows on the distant hills and dark trees against the light in the lower half of the image

Austin Cooper for LNER (London and North East Railway): another Yorkshire dales scene with cast cloud shadows right across the whole composition

Being aware of how many ways clouds affect what we see in the landscape should be helpful in your decision making, especially with regard to tonal values in what are so often rapidly changing situations. 

Your paintings;

Winter Hill from St. Leonard’s Hill: pastel painting by Liz
Speen Bridge, Inverness: acrylic by Vivienne
Sketch by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Heather
Pastel by Heather
In the High Sierras: oil pastel by Ruth
Connemara Coast: watercolour by Roger
Sunset over Lake Wanaka (Top) and
Rippon Vineyards, Otaga District the Crown Range New Zealand
by Elizabeth
Near Threlkeld, Keswick by Elizabeth
Farm near Malham: watercolour by John
Storm: pastel by Angela
Towards Mont Blanc: watercolour by Maricarmen
Vineyards in Rioja: watercolour by Maricarmen
Mumbles View: watercolour by Jan
Clouds over Lakeland Hills: watercolour by Jan
Holyrood: watercolour by Sandra

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