Studying the Skies

I love painting skies. I love painting clouds, too. The two sort of go together, of course, and while it’s possible to have skies without clouds, you really can’t have clouds without sky… can you?

Well, maybe so. Remember my painting Storm Clouds Gathering?  It’s almost all clouds with very little sky in sight.

Storm Clouds Gathering

Another sky I enjoyed painting was this one:

Red Sky with Path

If you search through this blog, you’ll find lots of posts about lots of skies, and posts about clouds, too. From the time I first began painting, I’ve loved skies and clouds.

I hope that over the years I’ve gotten better at painting skies. I’ve been spending time studying different kinds of clouds, learning about how they’re “built” and where they appear in the sky. Not all clouds are created equal, you see.

According to the International Cloud Atlas from the World Meteorological Organization, there are more than 100 different types of clouds. Fortunately for artists like me, these various clouds can be grouped into 10 basic types, depending on their general shape, and where they are in the sky.

Specifically, there are:

  • Low-level clouds — cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus — that lie below 6,500 feet.
  • Middle-level clouds — altocumulus, nimbostratus, altostratus — between 6,500 and 20,000 feet
  • High-level clouds — cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus — that form about 20,000 feet
  • Cumulonimbus, clouds which tower across the low, middle, and upper atmosphere.

Once you get into the atmosphere — which includes troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and the exosphere — you’re getting way over my head — no pun intended — so I don’t think too much about that.

Lately I’ve been making studies of skies and clouds — something I do often. My latest sky and cloud paintings include this one, which you saw recently:

Clouds at Evening (2)

And the latest, which you haven’t seen before:

Skies and Clouds (2)

I can’t get a decent photograph of this one. The bottom clouds are actually a brilliant, almost-blinding white.

The painting was coming along nicely… and then I bought a new mop brush. It’s horrible. I used it for blending on this painting and it shed hundreds of brush hairs into the paint. There was no way to even attempt to pick them all out. After that frustration, I really didn’t put my heart and soul into the rest of the painting — the clouds in the upper right and the line of wispy clouds in-between. Well, they were supposed to be wispy. Still, it was good practice.

Part of what I’m learning is an appreciation for the overall shape of the sky. In the past, I tended to paint it as though it were a flat backdrop behind whatever scene I was painting. But that’s not how the sky is at all, in reality, you know. It’s actually a dome, like a giant bowl placed over the earth, and I’m trying now to capture that sense in my oil paintings.

I still have so much to learn!

With the studies I’ve made and shown here, I still couldn’t really tell you what sort of clouds you’re seeing, so I’m planning another series of cloud studies, a series showing each of those 10 different types, starting with the lowest clouds and moving upward with each new painting.

I’m looking forward to the project because I’ll not only be learning a bit of science — and meteorology — but I’ll be learning a lot about bringing light into my painting, about using different brushstrokes and different techniques to create different effects, and maybe I’ll be able to play with a few different colors, too.

I guess I’m going to have my head in the clouds for a while, and that’s just fine with me.


  1. All these paintings of the sky are so realistic. I have just started painting, so I’m learning too. It would be lovely if you could put up a video of you painting. Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m learning a lot about painting the skies and clouds. I’ll be sharing more of my “skyscapes” over the summer, and I’ll include information on how I approach it. I’ve been painting for almost 4 years now, and I’ve spent a lot of that time learning about painting skies. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m always happy to share what knowledge I have.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You have captured some very realistic effects here . I like the idea of the sky being a bowl over the earth – that’s something to aim for – I usually tend to end up with a flat backdrop !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I painted “flat backdrop skies” for so long! Finally it’s getting through my head that the sky is a huge arc, so I’m changing my brushstrokes in hopes of conveying more of that sense in my skies.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I worked on another sky painting yesterday and was very disappointed in it 😦 Some days are like that. I’m hoping today will be better.


  3. I’m impressed by your progress on clouds and skies. I’ve been painting watercolor landscapes for only a couple of years, but I already know that clouds are going to be the hardest thing to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’ve always loved painting clouds and skies. I’m not very good at it with watercolors, but I’m learning. I thought I was doing well with oils, but my most recent studies have made me wince a bit. Progress is never a straight line, though. I’m learning from every painting I do.


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