How to Paint Clouds in 9 Easy Steps

Feb 2021

3 mins read

Ever wondered how to paint clouds realistically? Forget about those comic book clouds, and let’s discuss how to capture these momentary masterpieces using the wonderful medium of paint.

What do you need for cloud painting?

  • Framed 300gm canvas, A4 or A3 size
  • Adjustable aluminium easel
  • Long handle paintbrushes, size 0, 2, and 6 (filbert and round head)
  • Tear-off palette with disposable sheets
  • Two glass bottles for dipping and cleaning paint brushes
  • Fabric rags for cleaning paint brushes
  • 75ml acrylic paint tubes, artist-grade (various colours)

How to paint clouds with acrylics:

Step 1: Find a good reference photo

These days there are lots of royalty-free photos you can find on websites such as Pexels and Unsplash, so check them out! Or, even better than that, take your own photo of clouds. Remember to look for soft lighting (such as early evening) and tonal variety (such as storm clouds).

Step 2: Create a ground layer

Get rid of the white on your canvas by painting over it with a mid-tone neutral colour, such as blue-grey. This will help you when creating tonal variety in your painting, as it gives you a tonal mid-point.

Step 3: Create an under-drawing

Once your paint has dried, create a light compositional drawing on your canvas using a 3B graphite pencil. Focus on the outline of your shapes and don’t add any unnecessary detail.

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Step 4: Add mid-tones

Start painting the shadows areas of your clouds by using the technique of scumbling. This is when you add little or no water to the paint on your brush, which will create a soft hazy effect when applied to your canvas. Try using a gentle circular motion when painting with your brush.

Step 5: Add light and dark tones

Make your clouds look three-dimensional by adding light and dark tones. Be careful not to use pure white or pure black. Always add a tinge of colour or tone when creating a light or dark mixture.

Step 6: Create an atmospheric perspective

To make certain clouds look further away, lighten them by using a mixture of white and blue. This will create a feeling of distance, known as atmospheric perspective. Remember to give the edges of your clouds a soft effect using scumbling.

Step 7: Paint in your sky

To do this in a realistic style, create a gradient effect. This is done by blending dark blue into light blue, from top to bottom. To create smooth blending, add a bit more water to your paint.

Step 8: Add a landscape

If your reference has a landscape or any solid objects, paint them in. Be careful not to get too detailed when painting solid forms. Keep the whole painting light and atmospheric!

Step 9: Add highlights and deep shadows

Keep your darkest darks and your lightest lights until the end. This will make your painting ‘pop’ and your clouds stand out.

Now that you know the steps, why not try creating your own cloudscape painting? Join our online Painting course today!

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Warwick Goldswain

Warwick is Shaw Academy's painting and art educator. He has a decade of experience in fine art and illustration, and has worked as an art teacher, comics illustrator and founder of his own illustration business.