How to paint clouds in acrylic

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Painting clouds is a great skill to add to your repertoire. They’ve very common in landscapes, so learning how to paint clouds allows you to add another item to your artist’s mental library.  Clouds are also a great way to practice painting in an energetic and loose style, since clouds come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 

Today I’ll share some tips on how to paint a few different clouds that you might see on a day with lots of blue sky and a bit of cloud. You’ll need some acrylic paint, such as ultramarine blue or cobalt blue, and titanium white, plus a black or grey. I’m using Payne’s Grey. 

Watch me paint clouds on my YouTube channel.

Tip 1: Clouds are brighter at the top and darker on the bottom

Simple, right? This is true most of the day, except when the sun is just rising or setting. The clouds I’m showing today are mid-day clouds, which are a great starting point to learn how to paint clouds, so just remember – brighter on top and darker on the bottom. There can also be lighter shadows to the left or right of the cloud, depending on where the sun is in the sky. 

Tip 2: Clouds can have a fair amount of blue in them 

Clouds often look like they’re just white but many of the shadows and even the non-shadow areas are a tinged a bit blue. Thinner clouds also allow some of the blue sky to filter through, making them even bluer. I generally only add pure white to a couple highlights on a single cloud, and not on every cloud. Closer clouds also tend to be brighter, and further clouds are bluer because of the atmosphere. 

If I’m dealing with thin, wispy clouds, I’ll often not include any pure white, or I’ll apply pure white very thinly so the blue paint from the sky shows through. 

Use a light hand with the use of blue in the cloud. It generally will be a very pale blue. Your shadow areas will be darker, of course, but not overly dark, on a sunny day. 

Tip 3: Clouds are smaller in the distance

Perspective applies to clouds in the sky too. Clouds will be larger the closer to you the are in the sky. A general rule of thumb in a painting is to have a small number of large clouds nearer the top of the painting and a larger number of increasingly smaller clouds as they get closer to the land. 

Tip 4: Practice painting different cloud shapes

Practice is always the answer, isn’t it? But it’s true. Look at different clouds and try to mimic their shape. The more cloud shapes you practice painting, the more you’ll have in your mental library to easily paint in your future paintings. I’ve definitely painting a scene with clouds, then realized too many clouds are basically the same shape. Practicing different cloud shapes ensures you have a better experience when you paint a larger scene. 

It also allows you to learn what clouds that are found in nature don’t look natural in when painted. You might see clouds in the sky with square angles or that have repeating shapes. Those might be real but could be distracting or odd in a painting. Practice will help you judge what cloud shape adaptations to make once you’re doing a real painting. 

Get painting some clouds!

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