Painting Clouds

Clouds are fascinating things to paint. Techniques for painting them are as different as the types of cloud. Lenticular clouds, for example, which are found only rarely in nature at least in the places I have lived and much more often in art (the Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite painters loved them), these are best painted by using a very soft, broad brush and a circular motion, at extremely high speed (practice on a scrap surface first!).

Cirrus, I tended until fairly recently to paint them by applying a heavy, darker-blue sky colour first, then dragging a thin layer of dilute white or near-white across the whole sky area: where it is thinner the sky will be the right shade of blue, where it is thicker, the clouds will have that very high-altitude look.

Cumulus are much more fun. Was it Monet, folks, who did a very famous painting of a quay and moored sailing boats under a cloudy sky, the sky occupying most of the canvas and obviously most of the artist’s interest? The clouds there seem to be cloud-grey, but have hints of yellow, red, green, peach, blue, purple and just about every hue you can imagine in them. Someone I used to know who painted almost exclusively reproductions of famous works, did a couple of versions of that one, and the one he liked best was the one where he underpainted with deep, rich versions of the hinted colours first, then covered with a pale/mid grey, so the other colours were hinted at rather than actually mixed on the palette.

I’m currently trying to complete a painting I started just before I moved house a fair while ago now: I had looked at the sky and seen a cumulus cloud I-kid-you-not in the shape of an overweight but impressive nude woman with incredibly fine ankles. I blocked the picture in before I moved and brought it with me, and took months to find an art supply shop and stop making excuses to myself and start working on it again.

Prior to that picture I’d always tackled cumulus clouds the way I’d been taught, which was to lay down the cloud in a near-white in its entirety, then progressively deepen the colour in several stades for darker, thicker and shadowed areas. When I started working on my sky-woman again after leaving her for so long, it took about two minutes to realise that that wasn’t going to work, so I’ve been working on a grey woman, and sweeping layers of white of different kinds and dilutions over the grey where I didn’t want it so deep. That way even on supposedly white bits of the body/cloud, I’ve kept a lovely sinister, storm-cloud look rather than the innocent white clouds of a sunny day. Even though it may be almost the same colour, the thickness of the paint or perhaps the way the paint lies on itself, makes a difference.

It hasn’t helped that I haven’t done any work on figures since – oh – forever, not since I did a bizarre little canvas of my daughter as a blue-ish corpse floating in water (don’t ask me why, I don’t know, it turned me off portraiture completely!), and you can get out of practice at drawing figures very easily. With random clouds that are meant to be cloud-shaped, it doesn’t matter so much if the proportions are a bit wrong or if you plain make a mistake, but when you are trying to create convincing clouds that have to look like perfectly natural clouds whilst looking like a perfectly natural figure as well, then it gets a bit tricky.

It’s been a long, long time since I painted anything competently. and like any other skill, if you are  not in practice, your abilities get rusty. I need to buy myself a few more sketchbooks (or pull out the ones I know I have hidden somewhere around here!) and do first some graphite and pastel sketches, then a few small watercolours or acrylics to get my hand back in before I take on my sky-lady.

After all, I still really, really want to finish her, but I must do her justice.

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I still have some pairs of magnetic pressure-earrings suitable for acupressure, magnetic therapy and simply wearing without committing to a new piercing, with a variety of different-coloured Swarovski crystals; and I am still open to doing enhanced Tarot readings over the net. For both the studs and the readings, email me on nisaba.merrieweather@hotmail.com for my paypal details and for any questions or further information.

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