Turner used a technique known as scumbling to create his vision of sun-tinged clouds.
First, he built up a background of sky with thin glazes of paint. Once this was dry, he lightly brushed thick, opaque paint (in vivid yellows and oranges) over the top, touching down at irregular intervals as he dragged his brush across.
It’s a dramatic effect – the texture and intense colours mean that these areas stand out.
In Turner’s early paintings he executed dramatic, Romantic subjects by emphasizing luminosity, and atmosphere. One can observe a more precise attention paid to architectural and natural details in his early years, as compared to his later years.
During this time, he played around with all the styles of landscape composition including historical, architectural, mountainous, pastoral and marine. His series of 71 etchings, inspired from his existing paintings and watercolors, show all of these styles (1807-1819).
Turner’s painting style shifted during the 1880s. His painting became more luminous and atmospheric. He began to focus more on color than the details of the actual topography. St. Mawes at the Pilchard Season (1812) is an example.
Frosty Morning (1813) is based solely on the effects of light. As time progressed he paid less attention to specific details and more to atmospheric quality created by the natural elements, such as the sun.
Still, less and less attention is given to detail, while his canvas now begin to assume a suggestion of movement. His Norham Castle, Sunrise and With A Boat Between Headlands are both examples of slightly brushed canvases, mere color notations.
Some of his more famous later paintings, he approaches the subject of modern technology. He pays a tribute to the passing age of sail ships that were soon to be replaced by steam-powered vessels. He moves away from marine subject matter, and focuses now on the railway in Rain, Steam, and Speed-the Great Western Railway (1844). This is a prime example of how Turner focused mainly on colors and the idea of fluidity through his whirling colors.
Turner’s watercolor paintings provided a later influence on his technique with oil paint. He started to use oil paint in a translucent manner, similar to the effect of water color, which helped produce his original style.
Before painting a vast majority of his work, as many of his subjects (mainly water) changed so quickly, he had to do preliminary sketches. He later turned his sketches in to watercolor or oil paintings.