Quick Study – Cumulus Clouds

I’ll start right off by saying that I like this painting. It’s nothing more than a very quick painting study done on a sheet of canvas paper, but I’m very pleased with how this turned out.

Quick Study – Cumulus Clouds Oil on Canvas Paper 9 x 12

This study was made as part of a Craftsy class I’m taking called, appropriately enough, Landscape Essentials: Skies. Kathleen Moore is the instructor, and I’m very pleased with her teaching methods. She doesn’t just tell us what to do, she shows us exactly how to do it. It’s working for me.

Clouds, of course, are an important part of painting skies, and I’ve done other oneline classes and read other art books that provide instruction on how to paint various types of clouds. So, I’ve had a bit of practice with this before. Now, it seems that it’s coming together for me. I’m liking the skies — and the clouds — that I’m painting.

Even before painting any clouds, though, it’s important to understand a bit about the sky itself, from a somewhat “scientific” point of view. Although we say “the sky is blue”, it’s usually not all a solid color from horizon to infinity, or from top to bottom in our picture plane. We all know this, I think. The sky gets lighter as it nears the horizon.

It’s helpful, I’ve learned to break the sky area into three separate “bands” — and for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call these bands, low, middle, and high. This information is important in our painting for two reasons:

  • Because of the color gradient we see in the sky
  • Because the cloud formations differ in each area.

In today’s exercise, the focus was on cumulus clouds. I’ve studied these before, and, as reference, here’s a cumulus cloud study I completed last summer.

I see improvement, for sure. I can see from this previous painting that I didn’t have a good grasp on sky-painting technique. That made it more difficult for me to get the effect of the clouds that I wanted.

So, what I am I doing differently now? Here’s how my techniques have changed:

  • I’m creating gradations in the sky by using three different shades of blue and by increasing the amount of white as each band nears the horizon.
  • I’m allowing the sky to dry before I begin painting in the clouds.
  • I’m lightly drawing in the large cloud shapes with white chalk.
  • I’m noting where the darker shadowed areas will be.
  • Instead of going right in with white, I’m now starting my clouds with a very light blue. This allows for much softer edges.
  • After painting the basic cloud shapes, I use a darker, grayer blue to add shadows.
  • Finally, I can use titanium white to add the bright, lighted areas.

My cloud-painting techniques aren’t perfect, but I have a better understanding now of what to do, how to do it, and why it works that way. It’s fun to see real progress in my art, and even though this was only a quick study on canvas paper, I think I’ll keep this one. I can probably even find a place for it here in my studio.



    1. Thank you. I’ve recently cleaned off my palette and I’m doing a bit of landscape painting again, with lots of skies and clouds. 🙂


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