The challenge in this exercise is to portray volume and movement in clouds realistically. I began by using graphite and charcoal on white sketchbook pages because that was what I had to hand. My first attempts were not very satisfactory: the clouds were too uniform. Charcoal seemed easier to use because it is easier to cheat with a fingertip in order to obtain subtle tonal variation but they still look more like grubby cotton wool. I added blue conte to the third sketch (bottom left) in order to suggest clouds drifting in over a pale evening sky. The fourth sketch (bottom right) was done using graphite but the application was too heavy and the result is more like hair than cloud. These sketches were done sequentially in the course of 30 minutes or so during a very changeable evening as a storm approached. I tried to give a sense of heaviness to the clouds by darkening them at the base. I tried to indicate movement by placing some of the clouds diagonally across the page rather than horizontally. Clearly, more practice is needed…
In my next attempt, I tried using water-soluble fine liner. These sketches were more successful because of the possibility of combining rough hatch marks with different strengths of grey wash. In the sketchbook, these clouds carry more convincing volume than the first page of graphite and charcoal drawings but that doesn’t come across well in the photo because of the spotty effect of the ink marks. The clouds on the right have also been but off in their prime.
The watercolour clouds below were painted on A3 watercolour paper in a weekend watercolour workshop with a local artist, Karsten Nimmermann, which I attended a few months ago. I am more satisfied with this because it does suggest volume and movement rather better than any of the sketches. This is helped by the larger scale which encourages broader movement and expression.
I tried to extend the variety of skies / cloud types. I think that this is called a “mackerel sky” in Britain:
I drew the following from my imagination. I’m not sure that I have ever seen clouds quite like these…! However, there is a sense of flurry across the sky to my mind…
Having had enough of graphite on white background, I tried a grey pastel paper and used charcoal and white conte. I have tried to give the impression of diminishing volume with distance from the viewer as clouds do tend to appear “flatter” closer to the horizon.
I wanted to experiment with bringing colour into the clouds rather than focusing on shades of grey and white. I began by using a bright blue Inktense pencil on its side to roughly shade an area of cartridge paper. Then I drew cloud shapes using a water brush. Finally, I added a little hatching in dark purple for contrast and used a semi-dry brush to blend these marks slightly. The image did not photograph well – perhaps I still need to intensify areas of tone – so I have edited the image to increase the saturation slightly. Hence the yellow light at the base of the cloud is brighter than intended.
In the next drawing, I added more colour. The technique was similar to that in the drawing above but shades of crimson, cadmium orange and sicilian yellow were introduced. The clouds are more transparent in this image probably due to more water being used so that the colour overall is slightly deeper. This image is as photographed.
Finally, I chose a photograph of an overcast sky that I liked and developed an A3 drawing using Neocolor II crayons (with a wash applied minimally in selected areas of the base cloud). The cloud type depicted here is known as altostratus translucidus. The base layers have perhaps a little too much volume for distant cloud but I quite like the hazy sun just breaking through.
Going further, I will try to become more systematic in noticing and recording different types of cloud, which might also make me a better weather forecaster. It would also be good to develop cloud drawings and paintings in the context of the world beneath the skies… there is only one vaguely defined horizon where atmosphere meets land or water in these drawings.
Useful resource: Hamblyn, Richard (2008) The Cloud Book: How to Understand the Skies. David & Charles.