Sunday, 1 April 2012


 I'd like once again to offer you some of Ruskin's wise words - he was a bit long-winded, to my mind, but it is worth picking out the occasional rather lovely nugget, sometimes his prose is almost like poetry:

"If you look intensely at the pure blue of a serene sky, you will see that it is not flat dead colour, but a deep, quivering, transparent body of penetrable air, in which you trace or imagine short, falling spots of deceiving light, and dim shades, faint, veiled vestiges of dark vapour, and it is this trembling transparency which our great modern master (Turner) has especially aimed at and given.  His blue is never laid on in smooth coats, BUT IN BREAKING, MINGLING, MELTING HUES..."

So - how to achieve "breaking, mingling, melting hues"?   In his excellent "Pastel Pointers" book, Richard McKinley talks about "Fragmenting" the colour or using "fractured colour" in order to create luminosity my books and teaching, I have always talked about "broken colour", but I like Richard's choice of words rather better.  Using broken or fragmented colours allows us to give the impression of inner light in our paintings...the painting will almost pulsate, or glow, because by using ANALAGOUS COLOURS (side by side on the colour wheel) OF A SIMILAR TONE TOGETHER WITH THE MAIN COLOUR of whatever it is we are painting, instead of one, flat area of a single colour, we are in fact using all the colours of the spectrum together.  As I began this post talking about the sky,  let's take the blue of the sky.  I have used three blues, one cobalt, one blue which leans towards green (so contains a hint of yellow - the second primary colour) and one which leans towards purple (and so contains a hint of red, the third primary - therefore we are, in essence, using all three primaries together - it helps to think of it in this way. )  .They are all similar in tone, though I think to achieve Ruskin's  "faint veiled vestiges of dark vapour", as in his first paragraph, a touch of a darker tone in the mix as well would also work:

broken colour top left;  solid cobalt blue top right,
the three colours used for the broken colour patch are shown at the bottom.
OK, ok..........for those of you who are very eagle-eyed, yes, I do know that the blue-green is a tad lighter in tone than the others.    But actually, when worked together with the other two colours, the overall effect of the finished piece is virtually the same tone as the solid colour, and to prove this, here it is in greyscale:

Personally, I think it rather lucky I did not have quite the same tone of the blue-green, because now, I reckon my broken colour piece has helped to achieve Ruskin's ideal "penetrable sky" .   I hope you agree.

What I certainly do hope you will appreciate is that the broken-colour passage is much more interesting, lively, and somehow more luminous and light-filled, than the plain solid blue.  A bird could fly through that patch of colour, but would crash into a solid wall of blue and bend its beak.  Not nice, having a bent beak.  (I bet you will never again paint a solid block of blue sky without thinking about that poor bird with its bent beak.)

You can use broken colour not just in pastels, but in acrylics and oils too, in fact, any opaque medium, to achieve this "trembling" effect, which is just so beautiful. (And does not have to be limited to skies, either)

Having said all of this, please do not imagine I am giving you a recipe for the blue of the sky.   Next time you see a wonderful, clear blue sky, tilt your head right up and notice how the sky will be a rich ultramarine blue above your head, and as you lower your head down to the horizon, the sky will lighten, and more blue-green will appear in the colour.  This is to do with the atmosphere of the earth interfering with what you is all very technical and you can find lots about it on the internet if you are curious to know why this is .  I don't want to go into the science here;  I think people's eyes glaze over when confronted with too many words..... I would just encourage you to LOOK at a blue sky, use your eyes and absorb what you see.  Then, when trying to recreate something of what you have seen, think about the use of fractured, or broken, colour in order to create a sky made of vapour, which can be penetrated, rather than creating a solid wall of blue.   This applies to the painting of almost every element of the sky - clouds are vapour too, and are often filled with light, so the same principle could apply.

I will finish with two pictures of my own, which use many passages of broken, "trembling" colour, and I do humbly feel that these pictures do "glow". I hope you do too.

Fire in the Sky         Pastel on paper     13x16"

and below, Silver Light at the Beach     Pastel on paper    21x26"


  1. Excellent Jackie! The next blue sky I paint will have broken color in it for sure! I do love the way broken color looks and pastels are the perfect medium to achieve it. I seem to use it most often in landscapes, but I think now I'll branch out and be more concious of using it in other subjects as well. The effects and advantages are obvious when explained so clearly. Great subject!

  2. Thanks for such an interesting and helpful post, Jackie!

  3. Jackie, wonderful post. I have always done fractured / broken color skies! I start with pink, yellow or lavendar and then decide which blues I use from the cooler darker one at the zenith to a warmer lighter one as it comes to the horizon. I try not to work it too much. You have shown some beautiful examples and I thank you for illustrating and talking about this. It is hard to get this across to students... I will be sharing this on my Facebook page!

    1. Hi Marsha,
      I believe I recognize you - are you a member of the Get Organized class that's going on now? Me too! Good to meet you.
      Jaime Howard

  4. I can't believe the serendipity of our blog posts, Jackie! Just yesterday, I blogged regarding the frustrations of trying to duplicate what is seen in the sunrise.
    If you're interested, it's at
    Your post will definitely be helpful tomorrow morning as I face the sky once again to attempt the impossible.
    Beautiful work, and yes, they do glow!


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