Painting Clouds in Watercolor
If you’ve tried to paint clouds in watercolor, you know one of many tricks is to preserve the white of your watercolor paper.
Have you tried to paint skies around your white clouds, or shade in the cloud underbellies?
Have you painted clouds wet into wet with bold colors?
How about filling your entire paper with a field of blue sky, and then using crumpled tissue to blot clouds out while the pigment is still wet?
Preserving the White of Your Watercolor Paper
The white of your paper represents the clouds, so your brush and hand may have to exercise restraint to leave areas clean and clear.
We also have to avoid hard edges, since the cloud boundaries dissipate in layers of soft, feathery transparencies (see below).
I think this is the biggest challenge in white cloud painting with watercolor, and that’s why I’ve harvested some great photo examples and video tutorials on painting clouds in watercolor in this post.
Cloud Painting in Watercolor
Painters see everything in paint, color and values. But when painting white or bright reflections in watercolor, the painter has to stack strategies that will preserve the white of the watercolor paper. Additionally, we want our clouds to look natural, and not like a cut-outs from the pigments around them.
No wonder watercolor painters are perplexed about how to proceed with painting clouds!
Cloud Painting with Watercolors
You could fill a month with watercolor cloud painting adventures just by searching for cloud-painting tips and tutorials online. I recommend doing that if you’d like to harvest an arsenal of approaches for all your future cloud paintings.
The moral of the story on cloud painting is that there are All Sorts of Ways, and none of them are wrong, or better than the others.
The basement under that moral is there are All Sorts of Clouds too. White, pink, bright orange, bruised gray, soft lavender colors are common in clouds. So a little close inspection of cloud photos will help inform your artist’s brain on ways to paint them.
A successful watercolor cloud painting is ultimately a matter of your artistic preference and tastes. Which kinds of clouds you want to paint? The photos above show all sorts of colors and shapes, but they are all still cloudscapes.
Paint Often to Get Better at Painting
If I assembled a grid of 20 different white cloud and sky watercolors (pretend I did that, and imagine it), I bet you a dollar and a donut that everyone looking at the grid would know they were ALL cloud paintings, no matter the skill level of the artist.
We know clouds, and most of us are fascinated by their lofty beauty. The trick is to learn how to paint clouds in watercolor in a way that leads to YOUR happiness with the results. Make sense?
Make a Cloud Painting Plan
I don’t paint clouds often, but after looking for lessons to improve my approach, I found all sorts of help online. And there was even more tips I forgot about in books collected on my own studio shelves!
To save you from going down the painting-clouds-in-watercolor-rabbit-hole in a willy-nilly fashion like I did, I’ve assembled some resources for you below.
Cloud Painting Tutorials on YouTube
Here is a nice collection of Cloud Painting video tutorials harvested just for you:
- Peter Sheeler has assembled a whole series of cloud and sky painting tutorials in watercolor, and you can see them here.
- Jennifer Branch demonstrates an expanse of blue skies and white clouds in a landscape painting in fifteen minutes in this video.
- Peter Wooley explores the effectiveness of lifting clouds out of the watercolored sky with tissue here. He makes a point to use a sturdy paper with good sizing when trying this technique.
- Jeremy Ford demonstrates a cloudscape over a shore using a controlled wet into wet technique with pre-mixed pools of pigment here.
- Steve Mitchell demonstrates a glowing sunset sky with clouds in shadow, so it’s less of a preserving-the-white of the paper technique, and more of a value-control exercise. Have a look here.
- Susan Herron makes sky and cloud painting look Flick-of-the-Wrist-Easy, and she talks about letting the paint do the work, why she loves French Ultramarine Blue for the visible granulation, and how using a hair dryer to expedite drying layers too soon might not be a good idea in a sky watercolor.
Paper over Pixels? No Problem.
If video tutorials are not your jam, and you prefer the weight of a real, paper book in your lap, reading the written word, while sipping tea near a sunny window in an overstuffed chair – I’ll be right over! And I’ll bring cookies!
If you like to take notes while perusing chapters in an art book so you can digest painting tips to use later in your studio, here are some books (below) on amazon. You may find them helpful in your endeavors to paint clouds in watercolor:
The sky is the key to the landscape. Its majesty permeates outdoor nature. It is the dictator of conditions and moods – not alone in the moods of nature, but our own as well. I know that there are men who never see the sky at all. A certain plain man of our hills at Woodstock once said: “You know, before you artists got here, I never used to see the sky.” ~Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting
Why Paint Clouds?
Do you paint white clouds in watercolor? How about dark, richly bruised clouds staggered in orange and pink sunsets in watercolor? Who are your mentors and best inspirations for painting clouds and skyscapes in watercolor?
If you have a few helpful resources, please leave them in the comments so we can help each other out.
Clouds can stop traffic, and halt conversations with fingers pointing towards jaw-dropping beauty.
Painting Different Types of Clouds
A pile of cumulus clouds can cause spontaneous moments of silence to absorb their ephemeral shapes and colors.
A high track of cirrus clouds can inflate the baffles on our sense of wonder and mystery.
Cumulonimbus masses warn us about bad weather coming our way.
Maybe it’s our duty as artists to remind people to look at the sky every now and again by trying our best to paint clouds really well. What do you think about that?
If you’ve found other watercolor cloud painting tutorials beyond the ones listed in this post above, please share the links in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!
P.S. I should add John F. Carlson’s excellent book Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting to my list of books above, since he has an entire chapter on clouds. So much of his wisdom is easily digestible and immediately applicable. I got my well-worn, often turned to copy on Amazon for about $10 here.
As a poet, I’ve realized that one of the most important things I do is give people words, images, metaphors and stories to describe the world of their daily experience.Dana Gioia