Clouds are an integral part of many landscape paintings, regardless of the media used.
As artists, we want to paint clouds that are more than just interesting and believable.
We want our clouds to add to the emotional impact of a painting; not just realism, but
emotional truth. In order to achieve this, we must visually understand clouds.
To understand anything, we first need to see it as it truly is, without preconceptions. We
don’t need a scientific lecture on what makes clouds, although that’s interesting too.
Simply take a walk. You need not go far if the sky is loaded with clouds. Go out at
different times of day. Take your camera and sketchbook. Notice the colors and shapes
of the clouds in relation to the weather you can feel on your skin. What type of clouds
appear on a warm, humid day, or a cold and blustery evening. How do you feel when
you are in that weather? That’s the emotion which will permeate your painting.
When it comes to painting or drawing clouds, our main objective is to understand the
light, shadows, structure, and mood. You can think it as learning to paint and draw cloud
portraits. I feel each cloud has a distinct personality. Maybe you will notice this too, once
you put your attention on the skies above a landscape.
One of the great qualities of clouds is that they can be a variety of colors and any
shape. The key to painting clouds that a viewer can truly experience is in choosing the
correct values to accurately depict the form, and even create the illusion that the clouds
will continue moving across the canvas, in the same way they float through the sky.
Value is an obvious concern in a drawing, but it is also the primary concern of any
painting. If your values are incorrect, your painting falls apart. Colors can be modified
and work in harmony with values. Value is far more important than color, even in painting.
When your paintings hold together structurally through the use of correct values, they
hold together in color as well. It also makes reproductions in press releases or
catalogues much more compelling and eye-catching. If you’re not sure that your values
are solid just by looking or squinting at your painting, take a photograph of it. Then use
your digital software to convert it to black and white. If the forms are not easily readable
in gray scale, your full color painting won’t be fully successful.
This is especially true for quick, loose paintings. To visually express the essence of
clouds and how they impact the landscape, values are the key to capturing everything
you need in broad strokes.
Creating cloud-scapes with impact is not so much about perfecting a technique or
learning to paint with a particular medium. It is about understanding what you are
looking at, perfecting your vision to allow the clouds to inform your painting as a whole.
This is true for any subject matter, but clouds are the perfect model to amplify your
understanding and pay attention to the way you see and interpret your subject matter.
While painting clouds, you can concentrate on and get reacquainted with the basic
principles upon which to build a successful painting, while having some leeway with
capturing an exact likeness. I urge you all to take to the skies! Do some cloud studies.
Any repetitive habits or fearful inhibitions you may experience with subjects which seem
more difficult or complex can be put aside while experimenting with clouds. Allow
yourself some freedom to explore the variety of color, mood, drama, and emotion
through the skillful use of values. Take what you learn and apply it to every other
painting you create.
Rita Roberts is a NOAPS Member and she offers a four-week course through Artists Network University. Her methods can translate to any media and any subject matter and they teach the secrets to creating vivid and evocative cloud-scapes. In 2015, a session of “Understanding Clouds” will be offered every month. Visit ritaroberts.com to see more of the artist’s work.