The Clouds We Drew as Children

I love painting skies. I love painting clouds. But even while I’m loving what I’m doing — which is an important aspect of art — I don’t always love the results. A case in point is “Cumulus – Cloud Study 1” which I recently completed.

Cloud Study (3)

Without a doubt, I enjoyed painting these brilliantly white clouds. Maybe you can see the brushstrokes, see how I put the paint on with thick, fluffy strokes. Some of these clouds actually look good. A few actually look like cumulus clouds. Most don’t.

When you look at the reference photo, you can see at once how badly I missed the mark:

Cloud type 1 for Cloud Study (2)

I was not trying to replicate these clouds in exact detail but merely to understand their shapes and use them as guides in creating my own sky filled with cumulus clouds.  We’ll return to this reference photo in a moment. First, let’s go back to the painting process.

On the morning on which I finished this, I was focused on happiness. I’d pinned up a little Bob Ross quotation pulled from the calendar my daughter gave me:

“Painting should make you happy. Painting should bring a song to your heart, make you appreciate life and all the beautiful things that are happening around you.”

Earlier in my watercolor play-time, I’d splattered bright yellows and oranges on the paper, delighting in the sunny little painting I created. The sun outside was shining; the birds were singing. It was a beautiful day in our neighborhood, and yes, I was happy to be painting.

As I painted and thought about happiness, I considered how many things art teaches me. I learn not just about brushstrokes and colors, but about the world around me. In this series of cloud studies, I’m learning how clouds are created, how we can tell one from another, and how they predict what weather is coming.

I thought back to how I’d shared this knowledge with my husband, pointing out cumulus clouds. “They’re like the clouds we drew as children,” I explained. “Big, fluffy, puffy white clouds.”

Like the clouds we drew as children.

I smiled and kept that thought uppermost in my mind, imagining that I was a child again as I painted my lovely clouds. I was very happy painting, but, in the end, I wasn’t happy with the results.

After painting in the basic cloud shapes, I turned to my reference photo, and it was then that I realized how far off I was. I really hadn’t painted cumulus clouds, at least not like those shown in the lower part of the photograph. Instead of separate clouds going back toward the horizon, I had one mass of clouds. What had I been thinking when I first blocked in those clouds?

First Block In (2)
First “Block In” for Cumulus Cloud Study

What I did was to work with negative space primarily. I “blocked in” the clouds by painting the blue skies around them, or rather by attempting to paint the skies around them. Where I really went wrong, I now understand, is in not looking more carefully at my reference photo. I’ve caught myself not looking carefully many times recently. I tend to look at my reference and then set it aside, painting more from memory than from any actual reference, and for this particular cloud study, that didn’t work at all.

I do still like some of the clouds I painted, and I definitely learned from doing this study. I learned that:

  • I need to look carefully at my reference photo and be sure I really understand it.
  • I might want to draw in the basic shapes and placements of cumulus clouds.
  • I’m making some progress on cloud “shadows”, and I’m pleased by that.

The good thing, though, was that despite my disappointment with this painting, it didn’t spoil my bright, cheery mood. I still had quite a happy day, and that counts for something!

Cumulus clouds are “fair weather” clouds, the kind you see on bright, sunny days, so perhaps it’s no surprise that painting them leads to a bright, sunny disposition. I hope you’re having sunny days and lots of happiness wherever you may be.



  1. “The clouds we painted as children” a great thought.
    One of the things I learned about in painting pursuits (It may have been from “Drawing From The Left Side Of The Brain”) was that we actually need to UN-LEARN much of what we learned as children in making art.
    Round yellow radiant sun, tree trunks are brown sticks and trees have green lollipop tops. Water that is always bright blue, clouds always bright white, rocks are grey and birds black.
    Indeed, I am still unlearning these things each time I pick up a brush.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love clouds and skies. When we paint, it should be something we love, right? I hope to paint enough skies and clouds to eventually become good at it. 🙂


  2. Hint: notice how the bottoms of the clouds are slightly grayer and get whiter as you look in the upward direction. This is pretty standard for this type of cloud. Also note how these dark/light areas separate the clouds from one another when bunched close together. This should help you out immensely, even when you look away from the reference photo for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’m working on getting the lights and shadows in clouds. That’s always been tricky for me, especially when I try to do a little blending to keep the edges soft. I end up blending my lights and shadows away! Practice, practice, practice, right?


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