Project 2 Exercise 1: Cloud Formations and Tone

The Aim

  1. to draw clouds at different times of day and in different weather conditions
  2. to experiment using different materials.

The Process and Results

My first attempts at clouds were on a grey, overcast and rainy day. My viewing was restricted to being from an upstairs window. Whilst there were no clear patches of sky, there were different of layers of cloud visible. The lowest layers (and therefore the nearest layers) appeared as light-grey lumpy clouds. The highest layers, visible further away towards the horizon were much darker and appeared more uniform and ‘smooth’. These dark clouds appeared to lighten in tone towards the horizon.  I concentrated on a small area of cloud (above the horizon) and tried to capture what I saw, firstly with oil pastels, then soft pastels and then finally charcoal.

Clouds 1
Clouds on a cloudy day

Drawing small patches of cloud was hard as i was working above the horizon. I tried layering grey tones to emulate the layers of clouds. However, I found the oil pastel hard to layer without becoming muddy. The white kept picking up the dark grey of the lower layer). These closer layers tended to be lighter on top than underneath, but they all ran into one another so there were few distinct boundaries to work with. I found the same problem with the soft pastels. The colours just mixed together rather than layered, loosing any sense of depth i might be striving for. For the last sketch in this group I used charcoal, using a putty rubber to try to pick out the lighter areas of cloud. Once again  I didn’t really manage to get the depth i was looking for.

Clouds 1
Clouds turned into waves

It did occur to me that if i turned these sketches upside down, I had some interesting surf patterns!! I am not sure why but the sense of depth is greater when viewed this way up, probably something to do with the dark band which now represents the sky and the lighter tones the stormy waves. These materials, especially the oil pastel seem to lend themselves to water better than to cloud!!

Clouds on sunny but blustery day
Clouds on sunny but blustery day

My next attempt was a very blustery day. There were heavy showers interspersed with sunny periods when the clouds parted to reveal patches of blue sky. Again the clouds formed layers. There was a layer of light cloud bubbling up from the horizon. When the sun caught them they were sparkling white. Closer was a wispy layer of fast-moving clouds that appeared very dark against the bright sky. This time I used soft pastels as I wanted to introduce some blue colour to the sky. The blue that appeared was fairly uniform over the small area I was concentrating on. I couldn’t capture the sparkle that appeared on the clouds, especially at the top edges when the sun caught them. The paper wasn’t bright enough in comparison to the pastel. I think I have captured some of the movement in the grey clouds in the first sketch of this series. The bottom of these three images is attempting to show the depth of field of the bubbling up cloud. In many cases, the billows in from were had darker edges that stood out against paler clouds behind. I found this all very confusing and concluded that I wasn’t happy with these and needed to find a different approach.

Next I attempted a sunset.

Clouds at sunset
Clouds at sunset

The weather was again a mix of heavy rain clouds interspersed with spells of sunshine. My view this time was from the top of a hill, with unobscured views over a valley and onto a ridge opposite. As the sun set behind the clouds there were amazing patterns created by the rays shining through areas. I took some photos as at the time I didn’t have any drawing things with me. This certainly made it easier to capture the now unchanging moment!! Using charcoal and a putty rubber I sketched an area of sky that included part of the horizon. I am quite pleased with the results.

For my last series, I chose a sunny day with blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. I wanted to experiment with different media.

Fluffy, Sunny Clouds 1
Fluffy, Sunny Clouds 1

First with coloured pencil and charcoal. The attempt is a little clumsy but there are areas of this that I think are successful. I like the way the blue shows through the grey areas at the bottom of the cloud.

I decided to experiment with some watery media. First using water-colour pencils, wet on wet, they water-soluble wax crayons and water and finally pigment pens dropped onto a wet page.

Clouds with wet media
Clouds with wet media

The water-colour pencils (top sketch) were not very successful. The black was just too heavy (i had no grey). At first I quite liked the effect but having come back to it I have changed my mind. It is a very flat image. I think it has potential but on paper that will take more water than my sketch pad and with grey tone pencils.

The sketch with water-soluble wax crayons (middle one) was awful!! I liked the effect that the blue pigment and water made for the sky, although possibly it is better as water than sky. However the page had to be really wet for the crayon to disperse. Once again the black pigment was too heavy. In the end there was so much water sloshing about that I had to blot some of it up with a tissue. This created some interesting patters which ended up being the best bits!

For my final attempt at a cloud I wet the page and dropped pigment from pigment pens onto it. I had to add more water in places to encourage the pigment to spread. I really liked the results. It didn’t really end up a white fluffy cloud, rather a slightly stormy looking cloud but by adding some white pigment to it I managed to break up the blacker areas. I feel this was my most successful attempt, but I have to wonder if I have in fact crossed that unclear line as to what is a drawing and what is a painting. I would like to re-visit this technique at some point incorporating it into a landscape or similar.


Clouds are harder than I imagined! Diffuse media respond quite well I think because clouds don’t really have defined edges. Even white fluffy clouds that sit in the sky very plump looking are slightly wispy. The most successful sketches are those that allow blurred edges, such as the charcoal (to a certain extent) and the pigment pens and water. As they are also white, unless you are working on a coloured ground, the paper is going to have to play an important part in that cloud colouration. This means any pigment used for the sky around the cloud has to be laid down, rather than pigment for the cloud being laid down onto the sky. I am not sure if this really does (or should) make a difference but it certainly feels as if it does.

Project 2 Exercise 1: Cloud Formations and Tone

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