A reader recently reached out to me, asking for guidance on how to draw clouds. It’s a significant topic to cover, so instead of providing specific step-by-step instructions, I’ve decided to share three valuable tips for drawing clouds. The fundamental techniques of layering, shading, and blending remain consistent, regardless of the subject matter.
If you’re interested in a comprehensive tutorial that demonstrates cloud drawing techniques in detail, please let me know.
3 Tips for Drawing Clouds
As mentioned earlier, drawing clouds involves utilizing the same foundational skills employed for any other subject matter. These include:
- Starting with light pressure and maintaining it for as long as possible.
- Progressing from light to dark when working on traditional paper (although this is less significant on sanded paper).
- Creating smooth color layers.
However, certain aspects of drawing clouds differ from other subjects. These unique elements are what we’ll explore in this post.
Let’s begin by examining an image of clouds. We’ll refer back to this image throughout the article.
Understanding the Nature of Clouds
Clouds exhibit a remarkable diversity, much like us artists. They come in various shapes, densities, and appearances. Just take a look at the clouds in the reference photo provided.
These clouds fall into the category of cumulus clouds—somewhere between massive and wispy. Typically, cumulus clouds possess rounded tops and flat bottoms. When drawing these clouds, we have an opportunity to practice capturing more defined edges.
However, there are also thin, wispy clouds that appear flat in shape, color, and value. Despite their seemingly simplified appearance, they can be equally challenging to draw.
Different types of clouds demand distinct drawing techniques. Therefore, my first tip is to approach drawing clouds as you would approach drawing a portrait.
What do I mean by that?
Observe the cloud. Consider its overall shape, mass, and the way it appears in shadow. Pay close attention to its edges.
In other words, take note of the cloud’s characteristics and focus on expressing those attributes in your drawing. Even if you’re drawing a cloud from life, where it may change rapidly, the cloud’s character will likely remain consistent. Thus, identifying and capturing the cloud’s character becomes the initial step.
Understanding Cloud Mass
When referring to cloud mass, I mean the cloud’s overall bulk. It is influenced by the concentration of water droplets in the cloud and is discernible through the amount of light the cloud obscures.
Thin, wispy clouds allow ample light to pass through them, resulting in minimal shadows. Moreover, they cast few, if any, shadows on nearby clouds. Clouds like those depicted at Number 1 in the illustration below appear bright with little shadowing. This is because they possess minimal mass, allowing sunlight to penetrate through them.
Conversely, larger clouds, such as those on the left (Number 2), create shadows and highlights due to their greater mass, which inhibits the passage of sunlight and creates dimmer lighting conditions.
Thunderheads, as shown below, contain abundant moisture, thus significantly blocking light. This generates dramatic interplays of light and dark within the cloud. These clouds can also cast shadows upon nearby clouds, and their shadows may be visible against the clear sky.
Start Broad, Gradually Add Details
When commencing your cloud drawing, begin with general shapes, gradually progressing to more intricate details. Personally, I prefer outlining the cloud’s basic shapes and then shading the sky. However, you can choose to draw the clouds first, before establishing the sky colors.
When it’s time to shade the clouds, commence with light, basic values, gradually darkening them. This principle applies to shading color as well as drawing with graphite.
In the provided sample, the initial sky colors are in place, and I’ve started shading medium gray into some of the clouds using light pressure. Notice how soft the cloud edges appear. Even clouds that seem well-defined rarely possess truly crisp edges. To achieve a natural look, keep your edges soft.
Pay close attention to the colors within the clouds as well. The shadows are not always gray. On bright days, they can exhibit shades of blue and blue-grays, especially when the shadows are particularly dark.
The time of day also influences the cloud’s color. Observe the thunderhead I mentioned earlier. It contains no pure white because it was late in the day, and the sunlight produced a golden hue. If you were to draw this cloud as purely white, it would appear unrealistic.
Reference photos are immensely helpful when drawing clouds. They remain stationary, allowing you to examine specific cloud shapes more closely by zooming in.
However, it’s crucial to use reference photos merely as a guideline. Unless you aim to create hyper-realistic cloud drawings, there’s no need to replicate every cloud in the reference photo precisely.
For example, the enhanced line drawing below is the starting point I used for the cloud drawing at the beginning of this article. I lightly sketched it directly onto the paper, using pencils that were just dark enough for visibility. Unfortunately, those light lines wouldn’t show up here, so I created an ink sketch to enhance the visual representation.
While you may choose to create a separate line drawing, it is not essential. That’s one aspect I appreciate about drawing clouds and landscapes in general—they tend to take on a life of their own during the process, making it less crucial to establish a precise line drawing from the beginning.
These Are My Top 3 Tips for Drawing Clouds
Drawing clouds encompasses far more than what I’ve covered here. However, if you master these three tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating realistic cloud drawings of any type.
As mentioned earlier, I’m considering creating a full-length tutorial on drawing clouds. Please let me know if you’d be interested in such a tutorial.
If you have any questions about colored pencils or any other related topic, feel free to ask!