How to Paint Clouds With Watercolors

Written by naomi judd
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How to Paint Clouds With Watercolors
Watercolour Clouds (Naomi Judd)

Clouds help to create the illusion of depth and depending on the type and colour of the clouds, can give a painting a sense of season and location. Painting clouds is not always an easy task due to their ungraspable shapes, but the beauty of painting is that each artist can portray them differently.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Watercolour paints
  • Paintbrushes
  • Watercolour paper
  • Cup
  • Paper towel or cloth

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  1. 1

    Study clouds in real life before painting. This will help you to capture them with your paintbrush by understanding their movement and forms. The "Cloudspotter's Guide," by Gavin Pretor-Pinney is a great reference.

  2. 2

    Soften your brushes if at all stiff by resting their tips in water for a few minutes. Create cirrus clouds, also known to many as "mare's tails," by using long, soft brush strokes. If using dry watercolour paints, wet them. If using wet watercolours, such as Chinese watercolours, then squeeze a dab of blue and white onto a pallet. Mix a small pool of water with a tiny dab of blue and white and create long wispy strokes that curve slightly up at one end as this is usually how these clouds form in real life. Experiment with different intensities of colour and several thicknesses of strokes.

    How to Paint Clouds With Watercolors
    Cirrus clouds
  3. 3

    Paint altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds, also known as mackerel sky, by creating multiple short dabs. These clouds tend to make the sky appear as if it's rippling and also often pick up soft hues such as pink or gold in a sunset. Start by mixing water with white, pink and a tiny dab of blue. Create dabs with the brush in a sideways motion, close together like the scales of a fish. Then as you work your way across the sky let the paint slowly run out, making the brush marks less and less distinct. This creates the effect of the wind pushing away the formation.

    How to Paint Clouds With Watercolors
    Mackerel sky
  4. 4

    Paint cumulus, the puffy, candyfloss clouds, by using a large brush. Fan brushes are useful in this case. Mix a slight amount of pink and blue, creating a soft lavender, and literally think of cotton balls as you make fluffy round strokes with your brush, letting the colour pool slightly here and there to create shadows and densities within the clouds.

    How to Paint Clouds With Watercolors
    Cumulus clouds
  5. 5

    Highlight or shadow your clouds with different colours. Clouds can reflect many colours; using multiple hues gives the painting a time of day, or even a time of year, and helps to evoke the emotion you wish the painting to convey. More colour is more dramatic, but grey clouds, depending on how they are painted, can have their effect, too.

Tips and warnings

  • Experiment with painting clouds that are out of the ordinary. Try painting a lentinular, thunderhead or mama clouds, which are the udder-like protrusions than can form below a cumulonimbus anvil.

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