How To Draw Thunderhead Clouds

Learn how to draw thunderhead clouds, and you can draw any kind of cloud.

Or anything else, for that matter.

An integral part of drawing believable skies is getting the clouds right. Whether towering and majestic or thin and wispy, clouds add sparkle, color, and dimension to even the most basic landscape.

But apart from water, they can also be one of the most difficult and frustrating things to draw. They are ever changing, filled with light and shadow, and capable of going from bright to dark in a matter of moments.

In this drawing tutorial, we’ll look at a six-step process for drawing thunderhead clouds.

How To Draw Thunderhead Clouds

My tools are basic drawing paper, a collection of graphite drawing pencils ranging from 2H to 6B, a Pink Pearl eraser, a click eraser, a bristle brush, and a tortillion.

How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds

Step 1: Get ready to draw

Whenever possible, draw from life. Find a comfortable place to sit where you have a clear view of the sky. If the view is somewhat restricted by trees or buildings, that’s okay. It will focus your attention.

If you happen to be in Big Sky country (Montana or anywhere else), find a fixed point of reference like a building, river, telephone pole, or hill and draw that part of the sky.

Step 2: Sketch basic shapes

Sketch the “gesture” of the cloud or clouds by using short, quick lines. Don’t worry about getting every line exactly in the right place. The cloud will look different in a moment or two anyway, so concentrate on the “personality” of the cloud.

I use straight lines as shown here because they reduce the shapes to the most basic form. This is the foundation for the rest of the drawing.

A 2H pencil holds a good point for a long time, so you can do a large sketch or several small ones quickly without having to stop and resharpen the pencil.

Drawing Mini Clinic - How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds, Demo 1, Part 1

Step 3: Soften the initial sketch

Work the straight edges into curved edges. Since the cloud will likely have changed, pay more attention to the overall “character” of the cloud than the details. Work out the flat, hard edges and embellish wherever necessary.

Continue using the 2H pencil to avoid getting lines too dark to quickly.

Drawing Mini Clinic - How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds, Demo 1, Part 2

Step 4: Add basic shadows

Shade the shadowed sides of the cloud beginning with the biggest shapes and working into the smaller shapes. Use a softer pencil. I switched my 2H for an F.

Use a 6B pencil to lay down diagonal strokes through most of the shadows. On the shaded side of the cloud, work over the edges within the cloud. On the sunny side, add accent shadows.

Use light pressure throughout and keep the strokes “open”.

Drawing Mini Clinic - How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds, Demo 1, Part 3

Step 5: Blend the shadows

Once all the shadows are shaded, blend each area. Work toward flat values. These are the base for further work.

I used a short, bristle brush and my fingers to smooth out the graphite and soften some of the edges between light and shadow. You can also use a tortillion or other blending tool.

The clouds at the bottom are not blended, so you can see the difference made by blending.

Step 6: Darken the shadows

Continue to darken the shadows and develop the highlights and middle tones. Remember that even in the shadows, there is reflected light. If you’re working from life, take note of the brighter areas of reflected light and work around them.

The sky will not be the lightest value in a drawing of clouds, so shade a light value into the sky. You can use your fingers or a soft cloth to blend the entire drawing, pulling tone from the darks in the cloud into the sky, as I did with this drawing. Don’t forget the cast shadow from the cloud.

Once you’ve finished, use an eraser to lighten some shadows and create areas of reflected light. A click eraser is ideal for drawing lighter vlaues around the sunlit edges. The flat side of a Pink Pearl eraser is great within the body of the cloud to lighten some of the shadows.

Push the detail as far as you wish. Even for a small study, taking the time to capture a full range of values will help you later, when you add clouds to a painting or drawing.

Now You Know How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds

This method works with colored pencil, too, though blending will look and feel different.

Oh, and have fun. Drawing clouds can be frustrating, but discovering how to capture the unique personality of each one is truly a satisfying feeling.

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4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

I can’t draw a straight line with a straight edge, and I’m the first to admit it. Horses, yes. Fences, no, in other words. I have to practice drawing straight lines, but really didn’t want to do it until I stumbled upon a few fun and easy straight line drawing exercises.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

People often comment on the time and patience needed for colored pencil work. Some use the word “tedious” in describing the process. My response is that “tedious is in the eye of the beholder.” If you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not tedious.

But there are times when time is of the essence, especially if you do portrait work or are working toward a competition or exhibit. Having a full arsenal of tools helps you make the most of your time. One of those tools is line control.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

Following are four line control exercises that will help you improve pencil control. I used a 6B graphite pencil for each of these because I enjoy the way a soft lead goes onto paper. You can use any hardness of lead you prefer, or any dry medium you prefer. They’re excellent exercises for colored pencil, chalk, charcoal or pastel.

Parallel Line Exercise

Draw a line. Choose any pressure and value.

Draw a series of lines parallel to the first line. Make them as parallel as possible while drawing freehand. Use constant pressure.

Straight Parallel Line Exercise

Gradated Parallel Line Exercise

This exercise is much like the previous one with the added dimension of making each parallel line either lighter or darker than the one before.

Start with a line. Make it either very light or very dark.

Make each stroke lighter or darker than the previous stroke (depending on where you started) and make each new stroke parallel to the previous strokes.

See how much gradation you can create just with lines.

A variation on this exercise would be to see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

Gradated Parallel Line Exercise

Hatching Line Exercise

Draw a set of parallel lines with even pressure and line weight.

Now draw another set in an opposing direction. Don’t draw through the previous set of lines. Create an edge between the groups by ending each line with the same amount of space between the first group of lines.

Continue adding new sets of lines in new directions.

The purposes of this exercise are:

  • Learning to draw parallel lines at different angles
  • Consistent pressure control
  • Learning to begin and end strokes precisely and consistently
  • Learning how changes in stroke direction affects the appearance of a drawing
Hatching Line Exercise

Value Shift Parallel Line Exercise

It never hurts to practice pressure application as well as line drawing. This exercise allows you to do both at the same time.

Start with the lightest pressure possible and increase to the heaviest pressure possible as you draw the line. Do several this way, making them as parallel as possible and getting the widest possible value shift without lifting your pencil from one end of each line to the other, or going over the line a second time.

After you’ve done a few, start with heavy pressure and reduce pressure as you draw the line.

A variation on this exercise is to use a pencil with a slanted point and change the line width by turning the pencil as you draw.

Value Shift Parallel Line Exercise

Conclusion

I highly recommend these straight line drawing exercises, as well as curving line exercises, and other types of drawing exercises.

Most of us doodle from time to time. These exercises are ideal for doodling time whether you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on a plane, train, or bus, or walking the pet of your choice.

They’re also a great way to relax for a few minutes.

And all the while, you’ll be improving line control and finding new ways to make every stroke carry it’s full weight with your next pencil project.

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5 Curving Line Drawing Exercises

In a previous post, I shared a few line control exercises for straight lines. This time around, I’m focusing on curving line drawing exercises. The following exercises will help you improve line control with curving lines, spirals, circles, and arcs.

5 Curving Line Drawing Exercises

You might expect curving lines to be more difficult to draw than straight lines. That hasn’t been my experience, and may not be yours.

But drawing a curving line, and drawing a curving line that accurately represents your subject are two different things. That’s why these curving line drawing exercises are just as important as straight line drawing exercises.

5 Curving Line Drawing Exercises

Outward Spiral Line Exercise

This is a simple, straight forward exercise. Put your pencil on the paper and begin drawing a line that curves around itself. Keep going as long as you can, making the circle ever larger.

This exercise is good for a number of things.

Improving your ability to draw parallel curves

Improving your ability to draw a long line with consistent pressure

Improving your ability to draw a long line with consistent line weight

In the sample below, pressure and line weight control were good, but those parallel lines…. I need a lot of work in that area and am not afraid to admit it!

Outward Spiral Line Exercise

Fixed Point Circle Line Exercise

This exercise is similar to the previous exercise except in one important area. Rather than drawing a curving line that enlarges on a central point in the center of the circle, the fixed point is at one side. It doesn’t matter which side you choose. Make every loop larger than the previous loop, but make every loop overlap at one point.

Fixed Point Circle Line Exercise

Broken Concentric Circle Line Exercise

Begin with a small circle drawn in the center of your paper.

Instead of drawing a parallel circle outside the first circle, draw arcs as shown below. You can vary the length of each arc, but make them as parallel to the inside line as possible.

You can also work on line weight and pressure control with this exercise.

Of course, drawing complete circles parallel to the center circle is also a good idea.

Broken Concentric Circle Line Exercise

Gradated Concentric Line Exercise

Start with a dot or very small circle either very light in value or very dark.

Draw the next line outside the first line and continue. Make each successive line lighter or darker than the one before. Also work on keeping them parallel. The goal is to create a full value range light to dark or dark to light, then work back in the opposite direction.

I was walking the cat when I did this exercise and standing with the pad of paper in one hand, the pencil in the other, and my end of the leash looped over my wrist. The line started out fairly circular, but it didn’t take long to become misshapen.

However, I rather like the topographical look. It rather fires the imagination, doesn’t it? What sort of topographical formation would look like this on a topographical map?

Gradated Concentric Line Exercise

Gradated Spiral Line Exercise

This differs from the Gradated Concentric Circle Exercise in that you started at the center and draw a single line all the way to the outside edge without lifting the pencil. Start with heavy pressure, reduce pressure to the lightest you can manage, then darken it again to the darkest.

This exercise puts a little spin on the previous exercise and on the first exercise in this post.

Gradated Spiral Line Exercise

Conclusion

These are just a few of the many drawing and line control exercises available. Whether you use these specific exercises or something else, the important thing is that you find something that’s helpful to you.

Above all, have fun.

What Is Reflected Light? How Does It Affect Art?

When you’re talking about drawing or painting, reflected light is light that bounces off something else and strikes something else.

The most noticeable light is direct light, whether from an artificial source or a natural source. But that’s not the only type of light.

Inanimate Objects

Here are a few reference books. A natural light source (the sun) in an outdoor setting, illuminates the books and their surroundings.

Reflected light and inanimate objects.

The light source is from the upper right and almost directly to the right of the books, so if you could see highlights, you’d see them on the front covers.

The Merck Manual is getting the most direct light, but since the brightest light is on a side that isn’t visible, you can’t see the brightest highlights anywhere but along the edge where the spine curves around to meet the front cover.

But there is plenty of reflected light.

Examples of Reflected Light

Take a look at the edges of the pages on the top most book lying on its side immediately to the right of the Merck Manual. Light is bouncing off the cover of the Merck Manual onto that edge. The two books are close enough to each other and the light is intense enough that not only does it light the edges of the pages; it tints them red.

If the light source is strong enough and the object off which light is being reflected is close enough to the object onto which light is being reflected, the second object reflects color as well as light.

Now look at the other side of the Merck Manual. See the strip of light on the left side of the spine? That is light bouncing onto the Merck Manual after striking the middle book. It’s much dimmer than the reflected light on the horizontal books because the source light is less intense. The two surfaces are also further apart.

The angle between the two books is also different. They are closer together at the top than at the bottom, so the reflected light on the Merck Manual is strongest at the top (where the two books are closest together) and fades away completely at the bottom (where the books are furthest apart).

The bricks are also illuminated by reflected light from two directions: Red-tinted light from the cover of the Merck Manual and orange-tinted light from below off the orange book.

Horses and Other Animals

Reflected light affects more than smooth or shiny objects. It affects all subjects, animate and inanimate. Take a look at this photo, for example.

Reflected light and animate objects.

This horse is well lighted, with strong sunlight from the upper right of the image. The cast shadow is directly beneath the horse and stretches out behind. The shadows are all exactly where you expect them to be.

But note that his belly and the downward facing planes of the chest are light. The darkest part of the shadows is not on those surfaces but partway up the horse’s side and chest.

The light areas light bouncing off the sandy ground and illuminating the underside of the horse. The affect is especially noticeable because the primary light source is very strong, the horse’s coat is smooth, and the ground is flat, bare, and reflective.

If the horse was also wet, the reflected light would be more noticeable.

If the primary light source was dimmer (as in a cloudy day or indoor light), if the horse had longer hair, or if the ground was covered with grass or mud, there would be less reflected light on the horse’s undersides.

Also take a look at the top slope of the horse’s rump. Note that it’s well lighted even though that part of the horse doesn’t face directly toward the light source. Compare it to the shadow on the ground.

The light across the top of the rump is another form of reflected light. This time, the light being reflected is from the sky, hence the bluish tint.

 The Basics of Reflected Light

Not drawing or painting reflected light won’t make your art bad. I painted portraits for years without understanding this aspect of light and lighting.

But a good understanding of how reflected light functions and knowing how to draw or paint it will make the subjects you paint or draw look more three-dimensional. It is a valuable addition in your art toolbox no matter what your preferred subject.

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Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Lets look at using masking film with colored pencil.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a link to an article I wrote about masking fluid for the online art magazine, EmptyEasel. You can read that article here.

I also experimented with masking film on the same drawing. In this week’s post, I describe the process I used and comparing masking film and masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Here is the portion of the drawing I worked with.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 1

Instead of painting masking fluid onto the paper (as you do with masking film), you cut it to size and shape, carefully lay it over the area you want to mask, then smooth it down with a fingertip.

Step 1

There are two primary ways to use masking film. Place film over the drawing and cut the design from it or draw on the masking film, cut out the mask and lay that over the drawing. You don’t need to wait for it to dry, which is a bonus. You can also create more intricate masks more easily with masking film than with masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 2

Step 2

I chose to draw the pattern on the masking film and cut it out, then place it over the drawing. Why? Because I didn’t want to run the risk of cutting through the film, which is very thin, and into the paper. In hind sight, it would have been better to place the film over the artwork and carefully cut away the parts I didn’t want. It would have been no more time consuming and would have resulted in a much more pleasing masking.

However, I took the more cautious route and ended up with a good (not great) masking.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 3

Once the masking film is in place, the drawing process is the same. Work around and over the masked area until it’s finished.

One way the film is different than masking fluid is that I couldn’t work over the masking fluid without lifting it. Masking film, on the other hand, was easy to work over, even with medium or heavier pressure. It didn’t move or pull up or otherwise interfere with the drawing process.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 4

When I finished the background, I removed the masking film by carefully pulling up an edge with a fingernail, then pulling the piece or pieces up one at a time. The film came off easily and without leaving residue. Another advantage to film over fluid.

Here is how the drawing looked after removing the masking film.

If I Use Masking Film With Colored Pencil Again

Masking film worked extremely well for this purpose. Better than the masking fluid (read about that here).

But in retrospect, I would do things differently. I would:

Apply the masking film to the drawing before applying color.

Lay down a piece of masking film large enough to cover the drawing.

Carefully cut away the parts I didn’t need.

These changes in method would allow me to create a more accurate mask and that would result in a more realistic area, instead of this blocky look.

All is not lost, however. There may still be hope for the mane. If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know how it turned out!

Next week, I’ll tell you how the background developed from a single layer of medium value Peacock Green to this wonderful deep, dark in just two days. I hope you’ll come back for that.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, I hope you will. It’s an easy process that will take five minutes or less. It’s also free of charge. You can subscribe to RSS notifications of new content or email newsletters. If you want everything, you can do that, too! Just click here to get started.

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Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing

Have you ever found yourself wishing you could remove color from a colored pencil drawing? You’re not alone, as the following reader question reveals:

I’m working on a colored pencil drawing and have too much color over an area. How do I remove color? Can it be fixed or do I need to start over?

My first response to any question like this is to tell the artist to take heart. In most cases, you don’t need to start a drawing over, particularly if it’s nearly finished. There are ways to lighten or remove color and make corrections, even over heavy applications of color.

How to Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to lift color. Then I’ll show you how to layer fresh color over the damaged area.

How to Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing

There are several ways to remove color from a colored pencil drawing without damaging the drawing or the paper. Following are the methods that have given me the best success.

Transparent Tape

Transparent tape is an ideal tool for removing color from a colored pencil drawing. You won’t be able to remove all of the color—some staining will remain—but you can remove a surprising amount if you’re careful and diligent.

How to remove color with Transparent Tape

Take a piece of tape a little longer than the area you want to work with.

Lay the tape sticky side down on the paper

Press it VERY LIGHTLY into place. If you press the tape too firmly, you run the risk of pulling up paper fibers in addition to color, so be careful.

Lift carefully.

Repeat.

Most tape is sticky enough to lift color if the color hasn’t been too heavily burnished. Even if it has been heavily burnished, you will be able to lift a lot of color. If you need to, use a couple pieces of tape.

The one thing you don’t want to do is tear the paper, so work slowly and carefully. Evaluate the drawing each time and stop when you’ve removed enough color to continue drawing.

There is one other warning I need to share. Transparent tape does tend to leave the surface of the paper a bit slick feeling. The smoother the paper to begin with, the more likely using tape will leave the paper slick. That’s why it’s important not to overuse transparent tape in lifting color.

Removing Additional Color With An Eraser

After you’ve done everything you can do with the tape, use a hard eraser (like a click eraser).

A click eraser can be sharpened to a fairly sharp point that allows you to do more detailed color removal. Used in tandem with a color guard, you can remove color and create shapes or edges.

When I’m making corrections of this type, I usually use the tape on all of the area, then use the click eraser in more specific areas. This method creates a surface with gradating values and color, and that makes it easier to seamlessly blend new color into old.

Remember, be careful. If you’re not confident enough to try the process on a drawing, lay down color on a piece of scrap paper and practice with that.

Adding New Color

Once you’ve lifted all the color you want to lift or can lift from your drawing, it’s time to add new color. Use the same methods you used to put down the original color.

You will have to be more diligent in keeping your pencils sharp because you’ll be working over a “used” surface.

You may also have to use slightly more pressure than you originally used. But work slowly, use several layers of color, and carefully blend old and new.

A Demonstration

I used several layers of medium to heavy pressure to lay down the color quickly over this circle. The darkest areas are quite thick and waxy. The middle values are less so. The highlight has very little color on it.

Remove Color from a colored pencil drawing - First step in removing color from a colored pencil drawing.

Once I finished drawing the ball, the highlight seemed too small. To make it larger, I need to remove some of the color.

Using tape to lift color

I began by pressing short pieces of tape over the highlight and gently lifting the tape. Because I put so much color on the paper and used such heavy pressure, I used more than one piece of tape.

Removing more color with a click eraser.

Next, I used a click eraser to work lightly over all of the highlight. I held the eraser like a pencil and moved it in circular strokes over the area I wanted to erase.

The first time, I started with the lightest area and worked outward into the middle values.

Then I cleaned the eraser by rubbing it on a scrap piece of paper until there was no color left on the eraser.

Next, I worked only on the brightest area. Again, I used circular strokes and went over the highlight a couple times.

I continued to remove color from this drawing until it looked the way I wanted it to look.

Remove Color from a colored pencil drawing - Third step in removing color from a colored pencil drawing.

Another Demonstration

Here’s another ball. I drew this one the same way. Lots of color applied with lots of pressure. But rather than lift color, I want to add color.

So I layered indigo blue over the right three-quarters of the highlight using medium pressure. I also worked out into the black around the edges.

Next I added Non Photo Blue. Again, I used medium pressure to add color to the right part of the highlight. I covered all of the area I colored with indigo blue, and also worked into most of the left part of the highlight.

Remove Color from a colored pencil drawing - Third step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Then I layered Powder Blue over the left half of the highlight with medium heavy pressure.

As I moved into the darker part of the highlight, I decreased pressure and gradually blended the blue into the surrounding middle values.

Next was a layer of White, burnished over the brightest part of the highlight.

If I wanted to, I could layer blue over the rest of the ball, too, including adding reflected light to the bottom curves. It’s more difficult to add color to the areas with a lot of color, but it could be done.

That’s How I Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing

It isn’t the only ways to remove or lighten color, but it works for me and will work for you, too. The key is to work slowly and carefully.

There are other ways to lighten colors, which I write about in How to Make Colors Lighter.

The next time you find you’ve put too much color on part of a drawing, try this method to lift color, then make corrections. You’ll be surprised what you can do with a little bit of tape, an eraser, and some patience!

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