How I Paint Clouds

There are a few things I often paint that bring me a sense of comfort and home, clouds being one of them. I’ve always hesitated to make tutorials as I felt lacking of a certain expertise that would deem me qualified to teach others. After giving it some thought however, it all came down to the matter of not how well I could teach someone, but rather whether I could inspire them to then go off learning on their own. So to pass on my knowledge, I hope you all can get painting some cloudscapes, take away a thing or two from this tutorial and start creating for the new year!

Understanding Clouds

Some of us might have learned in high school science the different types of clouds! It’s not really important for us artists to know the terminology, all we need to know the different shapes and forms that clouds take. Having an idea what types of clouds to paint before setting your brush down can help provide atmosphere and sense to the painting. Next time you’re out on a walk, study them, observe their shape and how they vary in the time of day.

Choosing a Colour Palette

This is the part where you can get creative! Whether you’re picturing a sunset or sunrise, cloudy or sunny day, the colour palette you choose can reflect on the time of day and entirely change the atmosphere of the painting! Choosing a dark palette with deep purples and blues could give off a mysterious or moody effect, whereas pastel pinks and oranges might be more soft and dreamy. My general go-to is picking two to three like-colours (eg. pink and purple) or contrasting/complementary colours (eg. blue and orange) which then creates a more dynamic, interesting piece. So the next time you’re out on a walk, study the clouds, observe them and how they vary during the time of day, notice their varying flecks of colour and how you might be able to bring this into your art.

Beginning to Paint

Make sure you’re using either gouache or acrylic paint for this tutorial. The steps will generally be working from dark to light colours and rely on laying colours on top of each other. If you’re using watercolour, it’s the total opposite! One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s just a matter of knowing the steps and when to reverse them.

Step 1: Base Layer

Using the colour palette you’ve selected, wash the entire canvas with your base colour. This will act as the foundation and be underneath all your other layers. Skies are rarely just one colour, so consider using a gradient like I have here, but try not to pile on too many colours.

Step 2: Basic Shapes

Think of this step as mapping out where the clouds are going to be and how they’ll be shaped. Try experimenting with abstract and jagged shapes, some loose and some tight areas. You can also play with how soft or hard the edges are, softer clouds being smaller and further away from large forming clouds, as if they were pulling away.

Don’t worry too much how they look at this point as we’ll adjust as we go!

Step 3: Add Shadows

Now is the time to think about lighting and where the sun is coming from. Typically, the light will either come from the left or right, backlit clouds tend to be more difficult but fun to try! The shadows will be placed according to where the light hits.

Additionally, we want to shade the cloud since we are dealing with a 3D object. Add shadows to the bottom to give the illusion that it is fluffy and curving outwards.

Step 4: Add Highlights

Here is where the painting really pops. Add your lighter and contrasting shades of colour on areas where light will be hitting. Be careful not to do this when the paint is still wet underneath as to avoid muddiness.

Light is a mixture of colours, so we don’t want to be adding just white to everything. Consider how the colour in surrounding objects are reflected into the light, such as how the blues in an ocean might appear in the clouds too.