How to Paint Clouds for Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide 1

How to Paint Clouds for Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide

Painting clouds can be both soothing and intimidating for beginners. On one hand, these cotton-like whimsical entities are dream canvases for expression.


 On the other, conveying the ethereal, almost incomprehensible beauty of clouds can seem like a daunting task. If you’re a fledgling artist keen to master the art of cloud painting, this guide is your first step into the sky.

Understanding the Nature of Clouds

Before you dip your brush into white, it’s vital to understand the inherent nature of clouds. For one, they’re more dynamic than you might think. Unlike static shapes, clouds morph and meander, never in a truly symmetrical form. Observing and internalizing this constant flux is key to capturing their essence on canvas.

Clouds are Not Symmetrical

How to Paint Clouds for Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide 5

Strive to paint your clouds asymmetrically; this means varied shapes, sizes, and densities. Even a single cloud in the sky is a culmination of several shapes interwoven in a seemingly haphazard way. Think of them as three-dimensional masses, always in the process of collapse or expansion.

How to Paint Clouds for Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide 9

Pay Attention to Time of Day

The sky changes with the sun’s position, and so does your canvas. If you’re aiming to replicate a sky in the morning, your clouds should bear lighter tones above and darker shades beneath. Conversely, evenings or early mornings may afford you the chance to depict pastel hues juxtaposed with gentle pinks and oranges. This interplay of light and color is the crux of cloud painting.

Techniques and Approaches

Brushstrokes in cloud painting are as important as they are therapeutic. Each swirl potentially encapsulates the feeling of immense space above you. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles; this is where you establish your unique cloud aesthetic.

Pay Attention to Perspective

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Adding depth through perspective can take your cloud painting from mere observation to a visceral experience. Clouds are not flat; they occupy the vastness of the sky’s space. Incorporating a sense of distance involves making closer clouds larger and perhaps more defined, whereas those farther away should be smaller and fainter, their edges fading into the horizon.

Understand Your Medium

Whether you prefer oils, acrylics, or watercolors, each medium has its own language. Oils are forgiving, being reworkable and slow to dry, allowing you to blend at your leisure. Acrylics offer the advantage of quick drying, facilitating layers and texture. Watercolors, with their transparent quality, can elegantly mimic the shades and luminosity of the sky. Take time to familiarize yourself with how your chosen medium behaves.

Step-By-Step Watercolor Cloud Painting

These are a few tutorials that show you various techniques that will help you master the art of watercolor painting. 

Step 1: Preparing Your Palette

For watercolor clouds, you’ll need a range of blue for the sky background (ultramarine, cobalt, or cerulean), a white or very light gray for the clouds, and a tertiary color for the shadows (perhaps a warmer gray or violet).

Step 2: First Sky Wash

Begin with the darkest blue at the top, getting gradually lighter as you descend. Keep the washes wet to allow for a smooth transition between colors.

Step 3: Lifting the Clouds

With a clean damp brush, ‘erase’ the cloud shapes from the blue sky by lifting pigment off the paper. Then, you can paint around these shapes with the cloud color, ensuring the edges are blended to hint at the cloud’s form.

Step 4: Defining the Form

Add the darker shadow color beneath the main body of each cloud to imply depth. Soften the edges of the shadow with a damp brush to marry it with the cloud’s base.

Step 5: Final Details

Enhance the highlights on the upper edges of the clouds with a damp clean brush or by painting wisp-like strokes of pure white or light gray. This step gives your clouds their characteristic light play and volume.

More Lovely Watercolor Tutorials for You!

I think this one is great for a beginner as it shows a simple technique that is explained throughout. 

Following along in realtime sometimes can make all of the difference that you need to get the skills that you want. 

I love the way this channel usually explains the way the watercolor needs to be used. Usually when I follow along, I feel very proud of my results with it!

Step-By-Step Gouache Cloud Painting

Gouache is the easier medium to paint the clouds with, as it gives you the freedom to make mistakes and not worry about the paint drying as much as before. 

Step 1: Preparing Your Palette

Gouache will require a similar palette to watercolor but with the added benefit of white for stronger highlights and violets for more dramatic shadows.

Step 2: Underpainting

Sketch your cloud shapes with a diluted version of the sky color. Then apply a base coat of cloud color, ensuring you leave areas for highlights and shadows.

Step 3: Shading

Define the cloud’s shape by adding the darker shadow tones to the lower portions. Blend these with the base layer to prevent harsh lines.

Step 4: Highlights

Paint the top edges and any protruding areas of the clouds with pure white or a light gray to catch the light.

Step 5: Final Touches

Use a fine brush or the edge of a larger one to add any fine details or wispy tendrils. Think about the direction of the wind or the clouds’ motion – this will imbue them with a sense of movement and life.

Step-By-Step Acrylic Cloud Painting

Acrylic painting is a great way to paint clouds for beginners. The tutorial above will show you how to do that. 

Step 1: Preparing Your Palette

Acrylic clouds will require a set of colors similar to watercolor but with a different approach. Sketch out your design with a thin mix of sky color, using a larger brush to block in the clouds with a white or very light gray.

Step 2: Adding Form

Blend the cloud color with the sky wash where they meet to create a soft transition. Then, mix a darker shade of the cloud color and paint it on the undersides of the clouds, fading as it reaches the base.

Step 3: Bringing Out the Light

Apply pure white or a very light gray to the upper reaches and any outstanding features of your clouds to give them that luminous, sunlit quality.

Step 4: Shadow Work

If more shadow is needed, return with the darker color for a second pass. Keep these reflections of the sky’s base color in mind; the shadows shouldn’t simply be darker versions of your cloud color.

Step 5: Final Touches

Stand back and assess. Maybe a cloud needs more depth or a stronger shadow, or perhaps the sky requires a small tweak. The final touches are often small, but they can be the difference between good and great.

Remember, painting takes patience, especially when attempting to capture the ethereal nature of clouds. Whether you’re using watercolor to create soft, delicate puffs or gouache and acrylics for bolder, more defined forms, the key is to observe and adapt to what you see. Clouds are as much a part of the sky as they are of the mood, and understanding both will enrich your artistic endeavors. Now, stock up on your favorite medium, set up your easel, and prepare to touch the skies with your very own clouds.