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Painting Clouds

Updated on October 3, 2014

Stormy Sky


How to Paint Clouds

I think painting clouds is one of the most exciting parts of any landscape. There is such a variety that can be painted and each has a definite impact on the story the landscape tries to portray.

There are crystal clear blue skies, big puffy cloud skies, threatening storm clouds and beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Lighthouse Stormy Sky Seascape


Reference Photo

I love painting sunsets and this Photo was one that really caught my eye and made me want to get started right away.

With Painter 12, you can have the reference picture on a single layer and then add a layer over it to sketch on. It is like using tracing paper, something many traditional watercolorist do.



Start with a Sketch

Once I have the sketch done, I eliminate the photo so I can be more creative in how the painting develops.

I started with a light sketch and broke the canvas down into three value areas.

The lightest areas will be the sky holes where the blue sky shows through on the right and the sunlit sky shows through near the bottom.

The medium tonal values will be the rest of the sky.

The darkest values will be the silhouettes of what ever I decide I will have in the foreground, but they can be sketched in later. I will purposely paint the sky all the way down to the bottom so I'm free to cover up whatever I want later.

I try to create abstract shapes with each value block to add more interest and direction to the painting. You can read a more detailed explanation of this in my Lens,


Choosing a Palette of Colors

I selected burnt sienna for the under painting. This helps eliminates the problem of white canvas showing through where you don't want white. It also helps harmonize the entire painting, because it will be a common color throughout.

The clouds will vary from blue-violets to yellow-oranges which are complements of each other. The sky holes are blue-greens and pale yellows.

I'll paint the darker foreground using a combination of most of the colors on the palette.


Preparing the Canvas

Under painting the canvas with a color that is harmonious with the colors you chose, makes it easier to see your colors in relationship to each other. White tends to make it more difficult to get the exact value you want.

Using a mid value of 5 is a good way to help you judge the appropriate values of the other colors.

Usually the under painting color is a more neutral color such as a grayed version of one of the dominant colors for the finished painting.

I chose to use burnt sienna for this sunset. I lightly blended in a few of the other colors from the palette to take away the flatness of just the single color.


Blocking In Colors

Roughly blocking in the color gets you established with how the value clusters look. You can change them if you find the shapes are too repetitive or cloned, which is an easy thing to do with clouds.

This is also the time when you can change shapes so they are not directing the viewer out of the painting, such as a long horizontal horizon in a seascape.

Tree trunks or branches pointing toward the edges rather than the center are also a common mistake.

Paying attention to the shape of negative spaces is also important.

This is the best time to make all the changes, before you start finalizing areas of the painting. I also like to close off the sketch layer so I can paint more freely without the visual constraints of the sketch.

Painting Skies

I traditionally paint with water-soluble oils or acrylics and use those same techniques with my digital paintings. I thought you might appreciate some reference books that would address a variety of media.

For those of you who use watercolors, this is a good book for your reference library

Video on Painting Clouds.

I've prepared a video that shows the actual painting process I used. I hope you will find it interesting. I have done it with Painter 12 digital oil brushes using traditional oil techniques.

It is always fun to watch a painting progress, I usually go in with a basic idea and expand from there. You'll see at the end of the video how I used atmospheric perspective for the foreground mountains and trees.

Check on my other lens expanding on atmospheric-perspective.

Painting a Cloudy Sunset

Feedback on the Video

I would love to hear your comments on the video. It could be on the topic, some technical improvements that you would like to see in another video, or just a general comment.

How do you feel about the video?

See results

Left Full Version


Right Cropped Version


In case you haven't had time to watch the video, here is the completed version of the painting.

I'm also including a cropped version.

I can't decide which one I like better.

Maybe you could help me make the decision.

( In transferring this Hub from Squidoo to HubPages, I can no longer put them next to each other. That is why the confusing left and right designation.)

Which do you prefer?

The left full version or

the right cropped version.


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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

      4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Interesting hub! I love landscape paintings! If you come to my country, the Philippines, you'll love the sunset by the Manila Bay.

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      5 years ago from UK

      I enjoyed this lens very much indeed. I was fascinated to watch you paint digitally. Very impressive work.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting post!

    • Marja79 profile image


      6 years ago

      Excellent lens, I wish I was this good =)

    • takkhisa profile image


      6 years ago

      I have bookmarked this page and it is an awesome lens, thanks! :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great tutorial!

    • happy-birthday profile image

      Birthday Wishes 

      6 years ago from Here

      I have learned a lot here! Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful lens!!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Excellent tutorial, thanks for the great tips!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow, it's so beautiful! I'm pretty sure I could follow these tips and actually come away with something that looks halfway decent - pretty good for me! Thank you!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      wow. That is really awesome. I'm a realist painter, my favorite subjects are animals, but I have never been able to paint landscapes (especially clouds). I love the program your using.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Now I want to paint clouds....

    • josietook profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens

    • cgbroome profile image


      6 years ago

      Really nice lens! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Legenden profile image


      6 years ago

      This is great! I love the pictures :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      When at sea and staring at the clouds to pass the time my imagination will run wild. Finding your lens is very cool for me.

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 

      6 years ago from Johanesburg

      Nice lens and beautiful pictures ,thanks for sharing

    • MelaniePaige13 profile image

      Melanie Paige 

      6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Great lens. I would love to get into painting, so any tips are useful. This lens is bookmarked! Thank you :)

    • pshinde2109 lm profile image

      pshinde2109 lm 

      6 years ago

      this is very helpful....nice lense

    • MBurgess profile image

      Maria Burgess 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Judy, this lens has been very helpful and I appreciate you sharing your techniques. Bravo on your LoTD and purple star - very nice!

    • MrAusAdventure profile image


      6 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Congrats on your Purple Star and LOTD awards. I am always amazed at how creative people can be. Well done! :-)

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @Faye Rutledge: Yup!. the only problem is I am having a hard time responding to all of you who commended. The number of people is almost overwhelming, but take it.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      6 years ago from Concord VA

      Great tutorial. Love your clouds! I guess you are on Cloud 9 after receiving a purple star and Lens of the Day! Congratulaitons!

    • HalloweenRecipes profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful clouds! Congrats on LoTD.

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 

      6 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      Major congrats on LOTD. I so admire your talent.

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image


      6 years ago

      Congrats on the Purple Star and LOTD! This is so cool. I'm not talented with paints, but your lens makes me want to try. Good job. Thanks.

    • CampingmanNW profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice job on the Purple Star Award as well as the LOTD!!! Excellent lens and your passion shows through.

    • amosvee profile image


      6 years ago

      Congratulations, you are talented in many areas!

    • delia-delia profile image


      6 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! Very nice cloud paintings. Can't wait to see the video. I'm on my iPad and the video won't come up, so have to wait till I get to my computer...I also love painting clouds and take many photos of them...

    • LoriBeninger profile image


      6 years ago

      Congratulations on both your Purple Star and LotD!

    • LynetteBell profile image


      6 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Well done on LOTD!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 

      6 years ago from UK

      I haven't done much digital painting, but the finished article looks great, I did buy a taablet a littlte while ago to try some for myself maybe I ought to make use of it

    • carol2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens - I have to show it to my daughter who does art. Congratulations on the purple star and LotD.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Painting clouds must be the ultimate expression of art. Congratulations on receiving the LOTD.

    • Yamin Joe profile image

      Yamin Joe 

      6 years ago

      Congrats for the good news,happy for you.

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @Gypzeerose: Corel has created the Painter 12 Program which allows you to paint and draw with all different media on the computer using a stylus as the brush on a pressure sensitive palette (I have the Wacom Tablet). there is quite a large learning curve, but one you get into it you realize that you have as much control of the paint as traditional painting.

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @Dressage Husband: There was about an hour of recording, but that doesn't include the thinking and planning time that goes in as the painting progresses. The advantage of digital oil painting is that there is no drying time and you can stat and stop anytime you want. I really like the oil brushes in Corel Painter 12. They have ones they made, but you can also create your own and adjust them to work how you want. Just like in traditional painting, you decide how much paint goes on the brush and how opaque it should be, and then the same brush becomes a blender as the paint on the brush decrease.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      6 years ago from Colorado

      Stopping back by to congratulate you on LotD. Very pleased for you. :-) Enjoy the afterglow.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      6 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Congrats on receiving your lovely star and Lens of the Day for this awesome article. :)

    • Mellithorpe profile image


      6 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I will be sharing this in my Creative Arts group on Facebook.

    • HappyTom LM profile image

      Tom Christen 

      6 years ago from Switzerland/Ecuador

      Congratulations for the lens of the day! You really deserve it, you did a great and informative lens!

    • SBPI Inc profile image

      SBPI Inc 

      6 years ago

      Have never seen that done before. Thank you.


    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 

      6 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Very impressive and interesting :>)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is really awesome I love looking at paintings, especially ones of the sky and landscapes.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great work here. I have been wanting to paint clouds and showing me is better than telling me. I learned a lot here.

    • SusanAston profile image


      6 years ago

      Wish I could paint.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i like both

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      6 years ago

      Very nice to watch this, I have always been fascinated by the sky and I never thought of the process that painters go through to re-create it. What exactly is Painter 12?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Congrats on getting lens of the day for this lens. I am a professional artist, and I paint in watercolours. Fascinating to see a painting made on computer. Although I would never want to give up my 'real' paint brush, I do use graphics programs a lot as part of my work. Thanks for sharing this great video!

    • writerkath profile image


      6 years ago

      Good morning Judy! First off, congrats on this awesome LotD! I love what you are doing with digital paint - I had absolutely no idea you could do this! The video should be really helpful to others just getting ready to "dip their brushes" for the first time. You are so talented! You did such an incredible job on this! :)

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      6 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      The whole process was fascinating to watch, was it cut down much or can you really finish a painting in around 15 mins? I have tried a little bit of painting with digital media, but found blending the colours really difficult. I think I try to apply too much colour at once.

    • PaigSr profile image


      6 years ago from State of Confusion

      My biggest issue is I tend to look at clouds all the time. Even when driving. Yes that can be dangerous. However looking at them on your site was easy and not dangerous. Nicely done on your pictures. Congrats on LOTD.

    • marktplaatsshop profile image


      6 years ago

      Congratulations on LotD, a great lens thanks for sharing

    • savateuse profile image


      6 years ago

      Already been by and liked this lens... love clouds... But wanted to come back to say Congratulations on being selected as LOTD !

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @lesliesinclair: I enjoy doing that. It takes some time, but it helps me as much as others because it makes me focus more on what I'm doing and why.

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @Northerntrials: If you want to try it, Painter 12 and Painter 12 Lite both have 30 day free trials. The Painter Lite is very inexpensive and does much of what the full version does.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      6 years ago

      It's generous of you to share the actual process of painting this via digital media.

    • Northerntrials profile image


      6 years ago

      @Judy Filarecki: I have had no training in painting though I'd like to take it up. This would be a good start

    • Judy Filarecki profile imageAUTHOR

      Judy Filarecki 

      6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @Northerntrials: Digital painting is easier if you consider not having any clean up, drying time or supplies to buy. There is a learning curve just like anything else, but once you accept the brushes as being comparable to what your used to with just a different way of controlling them, you'll be excited. It allows you to use all the traditional techniques with the big advantage that making corrections or experimenting with placement or effects is easily done without any damage to what you have all ready gotten finished. It has allowed me to be a lot freer in my painting style.

    • Northerntrials profile image


      6 years ago

      Is digital painting easier than say water-colors or acrylics?

    • SBRTechnologies1 profile image


      6 years ago

      The cloud looks really beautiful. What I like about clouds the most is that they are always new...

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love to photograph clouds and do it quite often. I've always admired people that have a talent to paint such as you do. Beautiful work!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      6 years ago from Colorado

      I had never thought to use a color like burnt sienna for the base layer of sky. Really learned a great deal here. Sure appreciate your talent.

    • HughSmulders LM profile image

      HughSmulders LM 

      6 years ago

      I like the fact that you are leaving enough space for phantasy putting the photo aside! It's great. In such a way, the whole work becomes extremely individual. I like it so much!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful work Judy! I like the cropped one best. It was very interesting to see your techniques.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      You're very talented!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      6 years ago from Kansas

      Very nice clouds!

    • tammywilliams09 profile image


      6 years ago

      The painting is lovely. Thanks for the tip about using a backgrounf color instead of white. Learning about Art makes me appreciate the work that Artist have to do.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Lovely cloud art!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      6 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Very nice tutorial! I don't have Corel but would love to learn how to paint more digitally. :)


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