Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My Cumulus Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool

The beginner in oil painting may try to make a sky sketch more interesting by filling it with idealistic puffy white clouds. Such a cumulus painting is likely to be expressed with white paint upon a stark blue sky. The contours of the clouds will have a bubbly or candyfloss look. A painting of cumulus clouds of this nature could spoil an otherwise accomplished landscape painting.

The Culprits to an Idealistic Painting of Cumulus Clouds

How to Paint Realistic Clouds
Rachel Shirley
The following oil painting practices will often be the culprit of an unsatisfactory portrayal of cumulus clouds:
  • Trying to paint the clouds from memory
  • Using a colour palette that is imagined rather than what is real, for example, restricting the colours to mere white or cream and black
  • Painting clouds merely to fill an empty space within the painting
  • Working from an inferior photograph
  • Blending the colours of the clouds too much
  • Using the same brush marks throughout the sky painting
  • Using a flat (or bright) bristle brush to blend the edges of the cumulus clouds
  • Trying to darken the colour of the cumulus clouds with black
Tips on Painting Cumulus Clouds

Close observation will reveal that there is more to cumulus clouds than mere puffy cotton wool formations. Cumulus clouds have different categories and shapes, for instance, Cumulus Humilis are the regimented flat-based formations often seen during settled weather; cumulus Congestus are formed from stronger convection, creating taller formations and sharp outlines. Cumulonimbus Incus is a wedge-shaped thunder cloud with a dazzling array of tones and colours. The following observations will help the artist paint cumulus clouds to add atmosphere to the oil painting.
  • Dispense with black altogether
  • Looking for unlikely colours will result in more convincing portrayal of cumulus clouds. They often contain violets, greens and crimsons, as well as pinks.
  • Cumulus clouds also contain diverse outlines. The tops of a tall cumulus cloud will appear sharper and more defined than the cumulus formations nearer to the viewer
  • Cumulus clouds often possess flat bases, which will adhere to the rules of perspective. The further the cumulus formations are from the viewer, the more regimented they will appear to be. Formations at the zenith or nearer the viewer will appear more chaotic
  • Cumulus clouds possess different types of pales as well as darks. Using a dab of burnt sienna with white will produce brilliant creams. A little ultramarine blue is ideal for creating cool highlights, offering pleasing contrasts. A dab of permanent rose will add warmth to the highlights of cumulus clouds during sunset
  • Similarly, cumulus clouds contain different-coloured darks. Ultramarine and crimson can often be seen at cumulus bases. Burnt umber and pthalo blue is ideal for the undersides of shower clouds
  • Bizarre colours can be seen reflecting off cumulus clouds during the oblique lighting of sunrise or sunset, such as dazzling red, yellows and greens. Resist the temptation to tone them down.
  • Ensure the tonal values of the cumulus clouds key in to the rest of the painting, for instance, that they are not too pale, making the sky appear bleached out compared to the land. Standing back from the painting and viewing it through half-closed eyes will help
Essential Art Materials for Painting Cumulus Skies

The following colour palette is invaluable for painting cumulus clouds, although other colours will be seen: Titanium white, burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue and permanent rose. Round bristle brushes (not flat) are ideal for impasto effects or for applying large areas of colour. Good quality sable brushes are ideal for blending, but fine sables, sizes 3 and 6 are good for detail, such as defining the sharp edges of a thundercloud. Impasto medium will add bulk to the oil paint, adding texture to an impasto sky painting.

Related Links on Painting Skies