Draw a Simple Cloud–A Tutorial

Draw a Simple Cloud–A Tutorial

Today, I’d like to share a tutorial showing you how to draw a simple cloud. This is a follow up on a post I wrote sometime ago about drawing a clear, blue sky. I used the same paper and pencils for this tutorial that I used for that one.

Draw a Simple Cloud—The Tutorial

What You’ll Need

Bristol Paper: Any size. My drawing is about 6 inches wide by 3 inches tall. You can do larger or smaller as you wish, but make your drawing large enough to draw some details in the cloud.

Pencils: I used Prismacolor pencils for my cloud, but you can use your favorite brand.

Reference Photo: I did not use a reference photo for this. I simply drew a cloud from imagination. That’s why it was so important to indicate the direction from which the light was coming in the first step.

If you prefer to work from a reference photo, you may. Look for a photo that shows a fairly simple cloud with clear lighting and strong shadows.

Step 1

Lightly sketch a basic cloud shape. Make the shape irregular and uneven because no cloud is perfectly formed. Use the blue you plan to use for the sky.

I marked the direction from which the light is coming with the blue arrow. That will help me place the shadows when it comes time to draw the cloud. You don’t have to draw an arrow if you don’t want to. If you do, use the same blue you plan for the sky.

Step 2

Begin layering color over the sky around the cloud. Choose a light-medium to medium value blue for the sky. You don’t want a color that’s too dark, because that may make it difficult to draw the lighter blue beneath the cloud. For this demo piece, I chose Non-Photo Blue.

I used light pressure to scumble Non-Photo Blue into the sky around the cloud. I chose scumbling (circular) strokes because they’re great for drawing smooth color. Light pressure is best because Bristol is so smooth that you may not be able to apply a lot of layers of color if you apply heavy pressure.

It doesn’t show very well in the digital image, but I kept the sky under the clouds lighter in value than the rest of the sky by doing multiple layers in the upper part of the sky.

Step 3

Continue layering blue over the sky. This time, focus on the upper part of the sky.

I used horizontal strokes. Use the stroke that gives you the smoothest color possible. Continue using light pressure and keep your pencil sharp.

After adding a couple of layers, you can blend with a dry cotton swab to smooth the color a little more if you like. This is totally optional.

NOTE: I worked on this step for a couple of days. The key is to continue layering color until you have smooth color and subtle color gradations. Take your time with this. The more you rush, the more uneven the color may be.

Begin adding shadows in the cloud with the same blue. Remember that the shadows in clouds are influenced by the colors in the sky. A cloud in a clear sky will show blue in the shadows.

Use light pressure and careful strokes to rough in the basic shadow shapes.

Step 4

Glaze a light, cool gray over much of the same area, then alternate a few layers of light gray and blue. Don’t make either color too dark. You want to build up the shadows just as slowly and carefully as you build up the color in the sky.

When you have the shadows the way you want them, use a slightly darker gray to darken shadows. Don’t cover all of the shadows with this darker gray. Add it only to the darkest areas.

Also layer blue into the sky to smooth out any areas that aren’t as smooth as you want.

Step 5

Continue darkening the sky with the same blue, but increase the pressure. I used medium-heavy pressure to add a couple of additional layers.

Also make each layer as smooth as possible. When you’re drawing on Bristol, you have limited capabilities of blending with solvent, so the more color you have on the paper the better. I am going to try a solvent blend and will show you how that worked in a moment. But for now, just continue layering blue.

Alternate between light and dark gray and blue to develop the cloud shadows more fully.

For all this work, keep your pencils sharp and work slowly and carefully. Create the smoothest transitions in color and value that you can. If you find yourself getting lazy or careless, stop and take a break.

Draw a Simple Cloud
Step 6 (Optional)

This step is optional and it’s blending with solvent. I used Gamsol applied carefully with a cotton swab. Because I wasn’t sure how well the Bristol would hold up to solvent, the cotton swab made more sense than a brush. A cotton swab soaks up the solvent so I didn’t apply as much to the paper. There was a little bit of bleed through, but not much and it quickly dried. The paper also dried flat.

I’m only partly satisfied with the solvent blend. The Gamsol did break down the color, but it dried a bit streaky.

If you prefer not to blend with solvent, skip this step and either continue layering color or blend with a colorless blender. If you do blend with solvent, make sure the paper is absolutely dry before adding more color. I let my drawing sit overnight, but that was partly because it was getting late in the day and I wanted to work on something else, too.

Step 7 Finishing Touches

After the solvent dried completely, I went back over the sky and clouds with blue to smooth out the color and add a little more interest to the clouds. The solvent did make it a bit easier to layer more color on the Bristol, but I was still getting close to the limit because of lack of tooth in the paper.

I also made some changes to the cloud overall. The biggest change you’ll notice is that I changed the shape of the cloud so it looked more natural. That was quite easy to do by simply shading blue into a few areas around the edges. I kept some edges a little sharper than others, but softened most of them, especially on the shadowed side of the cloud. This helped the cloud look more like it fit with the sky rather than being pasted on.

Draw a Simple Cloud

Conclusion

Since this was a simple drawing, I didn’t push it as far in detail as I might do with a cloud in a landscape. Even then, the clouds might be so small relative to the rest of the drawing that I wouldn’t push a lot of detail there, either.

Also, I wasn’t using a reference photo. I can draw clouds that look like clouds without a reference photo, but it’s easier to draw detail with a reference photo to look at. This little cloud is definitely generic!

But I do hope this basic tutorial has been fun and helpful in drawing realistic clouds.

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6 Comments

  1. Ashley

    Thank you for this tutorial! It’s perfect in Its simplicity but is also packed with technique practice! It is just the kind of thing I can work on in between tasks on a very busy day!
    lately, I’ve been very blue about the lack of time I have to put towards my creative outlets.
    The whole post reminded me that perspective is everything and mine had become a little sour.
    Thanks again!

    1. Ashley,

      Thank you so much for your very kind words! I do appreciate them.

      If it’s any consolation to you, I have the same problems most of the time: making time to draw. Small projects like this cloud drawing have helped me stay in touch with drawing.

      So don’t give up or let frustration rule the day. Every minute you get to draw is a blessing!

    1. You’re welcome, Pat. I’m glad you liked this little project.

      I think it’s important to remember that not all art is exhibit quality or “serious”. That’s part of my problem. I’ve grown up in art selling portraits in my spare time, so I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking that every piece of art I make has be good enough to sell.

      That’s not true. It should also be fun.

  2. Rick Steffens

    This was probably a good exercise for me to do since I’m kind of prone to drawing kind of cartoon style most of the time. And I didn’t any Bristol paper so I used a piece of scrap cardstock paper. I used Prismacolor Scholar Permanent Blue for my main color. I used a mixture of Prismacolor Premier Sky Blue Light and Koh-I-Noor Light Grey Woodless for my shadows. I also mixed a little Cloud Blue [I think! Pencil was so old I could barely read side of it.]. I used a little odorless mineral spirits on a cotton ball and carefully went around the cloud to smooth out the sky and then just dobbed the shadows inside cloud a little. Overall, I’d say it’s one of the better, more realistic looking clouds I’ve ever made and not so cartoonish looking. Thanks!

    1. Rick,

      Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your cloud drawing! I especially like the fact that you shared how you used the supplies you had on hand to do the tutorial. That shows initiative!

      I’m glad your cloud turned out and I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

      Thanks again.

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