How to Paint Clouds with Watercolors

In this step-by-step guide, I will share techniques to paint clouds with watercolor using negative space. This is a perfect lesson for beginners looking to add depth and dimension to their artwork.

Watercolor painting is a great medium that allows artists to create stunning landscapes, seascapes, and skies. One of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of watercolor painting is capturing the ethereal beauty of clouds.

Let’s get started with painting clouds with watercolors for beginners

Painting clouds with watercolor can be rewarding for beginners. With practice, create ethereal artworks. Have a look at the short video below and continue reading the tips under it when you are done.

Suggested Material Checklist

Materials can make or break the outcome of a watercolor study. Watch the video that covers the best watercolor materials if you need more specifics about color choices, brush sizes and such. Basically, it’s exactly what I use and recommend for all levels.

Watercolor Paints: Opt for artist-grade watercolor paints in a range of colors. Choose a basic palette that includes six primary colors (one cool and warm hue for each one including red, blue, and yellow) along with earth tones for a versatile collection.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Brushes: Invest in a set of good-quality watercolor brushes with different shapes and sizes. Round brushes are excellent for detailed work, while flat brushes are great for larger washes. I’d recommend one medium and one large pointed round. Then get a large mop brush that will handle those initial washed that are applied in the very beginning.

You only need three brushes to do most of the heavy lifting! However, I do recommend having a dagger and possibly and Motler on hand as well. Check out the article I wrote on how to choose the best watercolor brushes if you have questions on the exact brands, sizes and such.

Paper: I highly recommend selecting watercolor paper specifically designed for this medium. Look for papers labeled “cold-pressed” or “hot-pressed” to suit your preferred texture. Experiment with different weights and brands to find the one that suits your style. Most beginners choose 140 lb. cold press to start their journey. Hot press tends to be a little slick and most used for highly detailed work and portraits.

Avoid cheap, wood pulp papers as they don’t react properly to washes and other techniques. These cheaper papers tend to break down quickly and don’t age well either, basically yellowing over time. Be sure to read the how to choose the best watercolor paper article when you have time.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Palette: A palette is essential for mixing and diluting your watercolors. Choose a palette with wells to hold different colors and a large mixing area. Small palettes tend to get dirty too quick and I found it difficult to have enough free space to mix enough colors without having to stop everything to clean up. The Masterson Pro palette works great and available at Amazon and Blick Art.

Water Containers: Have at least two containers for water—one for rinsing your brushes and another for clean water. Make sure the containers aren’t too small, and I would recommend plastic over glass. I’ve had plenty of studio accidents and cleaning up shattered glass isn’t ideal when in a creative mode.

Masking Tape and Drawing Board: Masking tape helps secure your paper to a drawing board, keeping it flat and preventing it from warping. The tape is optional and depends if you prefer the clean edges. In the beginning you will most likely focus on sketches and studies, so maybe pass until you determine later on if you need it.

A smooth, firm board is a must! I recommend Gator foam board as it’s very sturdy, smooth and durable. Fairly inexpensive and light weight to boot. That covers materials, let’s move on to skills you need to start watercolor painting.

Here’s a great article that covers my favorite watercolor supplies.

How to Use Layers that Start from Light and End Darker Colors

Creating realistic and lifelike clouds in watercolor often involves building up layers of paint to achieve depth and dimension. Follow these steps to paint clouds using a layering technique:

Step 1: Wet your paper – Wet the entire area where you want the clouds to be with clean water. Use a large brush and apply a uniform layer of water to prevent uneven drying.

Step 2: Apply the first layer – Using a mix of ultramarine blue and cerulean blue, apply broad, horizontal strokes across the wet paper to establish the overall shape of your clouds. Remember to leave some areas of white paper to represent the brightest parts of the clouds.

Step 3: Work on darker values – As the first layer starts to dry but is still slightly damp, use a stronger mix of ultramarine blue and cerulean blue to add shadows and definition to the clouds. Focus on areas that would be more shaded or tucked behind other cloud formations.

Step 4: Add depth with Payne’s grey – To deepen the shadows and create a more dramatic effect, introduce Payne’s grey into your mix and apply it selectively to the areas that require the most contrast.

Step 5: Blend and soften – With a clean, damp brush, gently blend and soften the edges of the clouds to achieve a seamless transition between light and dark areas. This step is crucial in creating a natural and realistic cloud appearance.

How to Paint Clouds with Watercolor for Beginners
How to Paint Clouds with Watercolor for Beginners

How to Use Negative Space Techniques for White Clouds

In watercolor painting, utilizing negative space is a powerful way to create the illusion of white clouds against a colored sky. Negative space refers to the untouched areas on your paper that represent the lighter elements of the painting. Here’s how to employ negative space techniques to depict white clouds:

Step 1: Paint the sky – Start by painting the background sky with a light wash of colors like cerulean blue or a soft orange hue to create a sunrise or sunset effect.

Step 2: Identify cloud shapes – Imagine the cloud formations within the sky and visualize where the white clouds will be.

Step 3: Leave white spaces – Instead of painting the clouds directly, leave the shapes of the clouds as untouched white spaces on your paper. Be conscious of the negative space you are creating.

Step 4: Define cloud edges – Use a damp brush to soften and define the edges of the white spaces to give them a cloud-like appearance. This will help the clouds blend seamlessly with the colored sky.

Conclusion

Painting clouds with watercolor can be both challenging and gratifying for beginners. By mastering the layering technique and utilizing negative space effectively, you can bring depth and realism to your cloud formations. Remember to practice regularly and observe real clouds to understand their shapes, shades, and subtleties better.

Watercolor painting is a journey of exploration and self-expression, so don’t be discouraged by mistakes. Embrace them as part of the learning process and an opportunity to grow as an artist. With patience, practice, and a touch of creativity, you will soon be painting captivating and breathtaking cloudscapes with confidence. Happy painting!