Two of the more popular posts on this blog are How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds in graphite, and How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil. Today, we’ll combine those two subjects with a tutorial showing you how to draw clouds with colored pencil.
In a blue sky, of course!
About the Demonstration Art
The sample study was painted on Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb paper, Azure. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the smooth side. You can use the front if you wish, but the texture will be more difficult to work with and it will take longer to finish.
My cloud study is quite small, 4″ x 2.75″. I used a combination of layering and solvent blending, along with the direct method to complete this piece.
You don’t need to blend with solvents if you prefer not to, but it will take longer to finish your artwork.
This is my reference photo. Feel free to use it, or use another photo of your choosing.
How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil
Step 1: Lightly outline the clouds and land and shade the sky.
Use very light pressure to outline the clouds and horizon. You can use the same color for both, or use a medium blue to outline the clouds and medium gray-green to outline the horizon.
Keep the edges somewhat soft since clouds very rarely have crisp edges.
TIP: Use at least two shades of blue, one medium and one light. The colors you choose should reflect the color of the sky you’re drawing, since skies are not the same shade of blue everywhere.
Next, shade the sky with the same blue you used to outline the clouds. Use light pressure and the stroke that gives you the most even color. Start at the top with a sharp pencil and layer color about three-quarters of the way down the sky. Work carefully around the clouds.
Follow that with a lighter value blue. Start at the top again, but this time, layer blue all the way to the horizon.
If you’re using a very light blue, start at the horizon and layer that upward to a little past the halfway mark.
Use light pressure with all the colors and do at least two layers of each, rotating through the colors as you work. You want smooth gradations in color and value.
Step 2: Lift a few more clouds with mounting putty.
Use mounting putty to lift a little color from the sky to create thin, wispy clouds if you wish.
Shape the putty into small shapes, press it lightly against the paper, then reshape it. If you don’t, you may end up with a pattern of lifted color that’s too regular in shape to look like clouds.
Step 3: Blend with odorless mineral spirits or other art solvent.
You can use a brush (the most common way.) Dip the brush into a little solvent, then “paint” it over the color. The solvent dissolves the color and allows the different shades of blue to mix almost like paint.
I used a cotton swab instead of a brush. In the blue at the top, I tapped the color repeatedly with the end of the swab. Too many times, as it turned out, because I began lifting color.
In the rest of the sky, I rolled the side of the cotton along the sky in horizontal strokes. Once to moisten the color, then again to blend it.
If you lifted color to create light, wispy clouds, work around them unless you want to reshape them by blending into them. Don’t wet them completely.
TIP: If you need to soften edges, blend over them as shown around the clouds around the center patch of blue sky, and in the clouds leading toward the upper, right corner in the illustration above.
Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the blue sky is finished.
Layer color and blend with solvent, until the sky is finished to your satisfaction.
If you need to, you can also do the final blend with a colorless blender.
Step 5: Draw the landscape using the same methods.
Draw the landscape using the same layering and blending method you used for the sky. The landscape is really the stage for the main subject, the clouds, so you don’t need to put a lot of detail into the landscape.
Since this tutorial is about the clouds and not the land, I’ll show the first round of color, and the finished landscape.
I did three or four rounds of layering color and blending with solvent to reach this point (below.) The landscape isn’t completely finished, but I’ll do the clouds before making any changes to either the sky or the landscape.
Step 6: Shade the dark values in the clouds
Carefully sketch in and shade the darkest values in the clouds with a medium value blue-gray color. Use a sharp pencil and put down multiple layers to create a variety of values.
Pay close attention to the overlap of clouds. Each set of clouds is different, so don’t rush, and don’t draw generic clouds.
After you’ve put three or four layers of color into the shadows and darker middle values, blend with solvent.
Step 7: Layer the same blue, a medium gray, and a lighter gray-blue into the shadows and darker values.
Darken the shadows and darker middle values with alternating layers of the same blue you used in Step 6, plus a medium gray, and a gray-blue lighter than the previous blue.
Focus on the shadows, but also layer the two shades of blue into the middle values.
Very lightly layer the lighter blue into the lighter middle values.
Step 8: Blend with solvent, and pull dissolved color into the lighter parts of the clouds.
Blend with solvent. Blot the brush before touching the paper to remove excess solvent.
Begin blending in the darkest areas. Observe the edges of those shapes carefully, especially where they overlap lighter areas.
Also pull color from the darker middle values into the lighter middle values to create even lighter middle values. Work around the white areas. They will be the highlights in the clouds, so you need to preserve them.
Step 9: Continue layering and blending until you get the color, values, and saturation you want.
Since this small piece was a study and a Drawing of the Week, I didn’t push the details. The finished study, below, represents two more rounds of layering color and blending with solvent.
I finished by burnishing the clouds with a light blue Prismacolor pencil. Prismacolor because they’re wax-based, and good for burnishing. Light blue to unify the values in the clouds and because the color was just the right touch for the hint of shadow in the brightest part of the clouds.
As already mentioned, this is only a color study, so isn’t as detailed as a larger painting.
But it is enough to tell me this type of study is not only fun to do, but worth expanding into a larger, more complex piece.
One Way to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil
Learning how to draw clouds is a challenging, but satisfying process. You’ll have an endless variety of subjects, even with the same cloud, since they change so quickly.
It’s also an excellent way to improve your powers of observation, and you ability to sketch and draw quickly.
In other words, it’s well worth the time!
Very helpful. I am a beginner at colored pencils. I’ve progressed from horrible to marginally bad. The cloud tutorial was very helpful.
Thank you, Bruce.
You’re probably doing better than you think you are. We artists tend to be our own worst critics. Keep after it and don’t give up!
I feel your pain Bruce. You’re probably really good, just too hard on yourself like I am. Plus you made me laugh!
Looks like fun. In Georgia we get some interesting clouds. I might try this on Pastelmat, just got a few pads.
Hi Carrie, enjoyed your tutorial on clouds. We know each other from the Equine Art Guild. Glad to see you are still out there. So am I. sincerely, Michaele Tristram
Hello, Michaele! I’m glad to hear from you again. Are horses still a main subject?
Hi Carrie, I am learning how to draw and use colored pencils on the internet and I have to tell you I like your tutorials the best of all that I have tried and I want to thank you for offering your talent.
Thank you, Diane! I’m thrilled!
Thanks for the very detailed tutorial. I’m researching how to render smoke with colored pencils, and your post has given me plenty of ideas to get started. But I’m a newbie to colored pencils, and this is the first time I’ve heard of using mounting putty to lift color.
Is a mounting putty better than a regular kneader eraser for Does any brand of mounting putty work? Or do you recommend a specific brand? Is there an alternative to a mounting putty?
Thank you for reading this post, and also for taking the time to leave a comment.
Mounting putty and kneaded erasers are two different things, though they behave in a similar way. I prefer mounting putty because I find it more flexible and easier to clean than a kneaded eraser.
All brands of mounting putty are pretty much the same, other than color. Some are white, some are blue, and some are gray. When I bought mounting putty, I bought Handi-Tak, which is made by the same company that makes Super Glue. But there are many other brands, too, so I’d suggest you get whatever is available in your area.
So far as I know, there is nothing else quite like mounting putty. It’s easy to use, re-usable, and self-cleaning. It also lasts a long time. The mounting putty I currently use was first purchased years ago, and I would be able to continue using it for years to come, except that the cats like to play with it and it often disappears if I’m not careful to keep it put away.