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Painting Dramatic Clouds in Watercolor

I have stood in my driveway in the spring when the winds are blowing and tried to paint clouds as they pass by. It is an exercise in frustration, but nevertheless, a great exercise.

Clouds change with the wind, so who is to say what they look like? We see shapes in clouds. Have you ever said, "There's a bear, or a kitten, or a bird in the clouds?" They are amazing reminders of what we have seen on earth, yet so fleeting.

When painting them, however, they need to have shapes that really don't remind us of earthly things lest they seem trite.

Cumulus clouds are puffy, remarkable things. They rise up into the sky with tremendous volume, yet remain fairly flat on the bottom. When we look straight up at them we don't see the flatness. I am not sure why they seem so flat because they are holding moisture. It would seem that they should be like a paper bag full of water! But if you look at the sky when it is full of cumulus clouds, you will see the bottoms of them as they float off into the distance, and they will be fairly horizontal stripes in the sky, with the volume rising into the air.

The following photo shows the three colors on the page with some dramatic shapes and color to begin the process:

The next photo shows the finished painting:

The following painting has been featured in a short video on Youtube.com/ It shows how I go about the process of painting skies. This one doesn't have the most dramatic color, but the process is the same. We don't always see saturated colors in the sky, especially in Ohio!

In these videos, I show how to go about painting them. Without pre-wetting the paper, I load my wash brush (a Hake) with lots of water and Quinacridone gold, and paint the sky around the top of the clouds. Then I add my pink color (Opera) to diffuse the color. I continue adding those colors throughout the painting (avoiding the tops of the clouds), as they will add a glow to the clouds and the sky.

As I add the blue (Cobalt Blue Hue) for the sky color, I continue it in the bottom of the clouds and start painting the horizontal lines near the horizon to denote clouds in the distance.


Clouds are full of color even though we see mostly white. They especially are colorful at sunrise or sunset, so if you want dramatic skies, photograph some clouds during the early morning hours or evening hours. The atmosphere gives them a colorful glow, and that is what I like to paint.

For effect, I have added a water scene in the foreground rather than a† landscape. The color of the clouds will be reflected in the water. There will be light areas, as well as colorful ones.

When painting clouds remember to keep some of the edges soft, and others crisp. If they are all crisp, they will look as if they have been pasted on the paper. All soft edges will denote a windy situation, and that is worth another video at some time! There are many other types of clouds than Cumulus, and we would approach them in another way.

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