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Have you ever found painting clouds a challenge, or been unsure how to approach painting them? This episode’s for you.

Clouds and sky are just as important as land in a landscape painting. The two are integrally connected with what happens in the sky impacting the value pattern on the landscape below.

In this episode I want to share four things to help you see the clouds and sky, capture them on your paper or canvas, and use them to enhance your composition.

  • Seeing and Creating Form
  • Using Lost and Found Edges
  • Catching the Color and Light
  • Making Clouds Part of the Composition
“Clearing after Storms”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Clearing after Storms”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Seeing and Creating Form

Clouds are forms, very much like foliage masses. If you can begin to look at the overall forms of those clouds, it becomes so much easier to paint them.

Look for the basic shapes, the forms created by the planes of the clouds. I like to call it the “shoe box”. Think of the cloud form as a stack of shoe boxes with a different value for each plane.

Let’s look at this in one of John Constable’s cloud studies.

Constable_cloud_study

John Constable, 1776–1837, British, Cloud Study, 1822 Collection of the Yale Center for British Art (CC0 1.0 – Public Domain)

constable-study-with-box-web

John Constable, 1776–1837, British, Detail, Cloud Study, 1822 Collection of the Yale Center for British Art (CC0 1.0 – Public Domain)

Using Lost and Found Edges

Paying attention to edges is crucial with clouds. Be sure to include both soft and hard edges, but mainly soft ones. Clouds aren’t solid matter. They’re ephemeral and composed of particles of dust and moisture. So if you make all of your edges hard, your cloud will appear as a heavy, solid mass.

constable_cloud_detail_web

John Constable, 1776–1837, British, Detail, Cloud Study, 1822 Collection of the Yale Center for British Art (CC0 1.0 – Public Domain)

Catching the Color and Light

The key to capturing form and light in your clouds is how you use color. Avoid relying on black and white as the only colors you mix. Use a contrast in value (to create form) and temperature (to create light).

“Clearing after Storms”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

“Clearing after Storms”, oil, 5 x 7”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Making Clouds Part of the Composition

One of the challenges lots of artists face is paying a great deal of attention to the land and looking at the sky almost as an afterthought.

I want to encourage you to think of the sky as being just as important as the land and make it a crucial part of your composition.

You can do that in two different ways. Clouds can be the main focus of your composition or painting, or simply play a more supportive role. In either case they help to create a mood or sense of atmosphere.

cloud-photo-w-crop

Cloud reference photo with cropped version

Summary

  • Look for the basic forms and shapes in the clouds, and their overall pattern in the sky.
  • Use lost and found edges to capture the ephemeral quality of clouds.
  • Use value and temperature to create a sense of form and light.
  • Integrate the overall pattern shapes and values in the sky into your overall composition.

Thanks for being here!

Feel free to share this with friends. And if you’d like to dive deeper into the principles on composition, color, and light, check out my online course.

If you’d like to speed up your own skill in capturing the many moods of water, sky and land, I'd love for you to join me in my upcoming live virtual workshop, CLOUD, SKY, LAND & WATER January 27-30. You can check it out by clicking here.

Clouds,-Sky,-Land-&-Water-web

Clouds, Sky, Land & Water: Painting the Southern Coast

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