Cumulus clouds are fair-weather clouds. Like stratocumulus clouds, they drift in the lower atmosphere. A distinguishing characteristic is the flat, nearly horizontal, dark base and the cotton-ball top with edges that always seem to be evolving or growing vertically. Cumulus clouds usually appear in the morning and practically dissolve by evening. They offer beautiful shapes to include in your composition.
To arrive at this composition, I worked on a piece of white vellum that you could see through. I moved, added and deleted my elements with each successive sheet till I arrived at this happy decision,
On my Strathmore drawing paper, I laid down the initial tone of the sky with a 4B graphite pencil, then I added a second layer with a B pencil. These values were rendered with the circular shading method discussed in chapter two. Again, notice that the tone is lighter near the horizon than overhead. These changes in values, as well as the smaller, distant clouds, give your picture perspective.
I start to give the cloud mass some dimension and add a little tone to the mountain and distant cloud shapes, but not too much as they are to remain in the background. I establish the darkest dark in the main cloud shapes, which guides me as to how dark the receding clouds and mountain should be.
Once the shapes are pretty well worked out, it is time to give them more definition. I establish the darkest dark under the large main cloud, then add a little more tone around the other cloud shapes, making some clouds recede and others come forward.
Cumulonimbus clouds generally produce heavy thunderstorms, and if they climb high enough in the atmosphere, their precipitation will be snow.
The base of this cloud is almost flat. Its color, gray or dark gray, is determined by the amount of moisture it contains. The top often takes the shape of an anvil. Cumulonimbus clouds are in a constant state of motion and change, making them challenging material for the artist.
This preliminary sketch has minimal detail. I was looking for a mood as well as indicating cumulonimbus clouds. The loose sketch suggests the type of cloud I want, while leaving me the flexibility to experiment.
Without nailing down any detail, I suggest the shapes. A little tone is applied to indicate where some darks will be placed. I am still visualizing, still keeping loose, so that if I wish, I can push shapes and values around.
I covered the background loosely with a 2B charcoal pencil. Some indentations were added to show the puffiness of the cloud formations. The darks were added with a stick of medium vine charcoal. Satisfied with the dark values, I dipped a flat '/2-inch brush in water and pushed the charcoal around. Do not use too much water with this technique. You can create beautiful soft-gray values with residue left on the brush from dark areas.
I was not quite satisfied with the values. More darks, painted with water, were added; then charcoal pencil was applied on top of this. The fresh charcoal on top of the painted surface adds an interesting texture and a freshness to the drawing. The paper I used was 4-ply 100 percent rag museum board.
Have you ever worked for hours on a scene and wondered what was missing? You realize the picture needs something in the sky — nothing dramatic or earth-shattering—but some clouds are needed. Incidental clouds are shapes you can add to your sky to save an otherwise drab landscape.
This is the view from my studio window, a sunset over the Catskill Mountains. It's a scene I have attempted to sketch many times.
On a piece of buff-colored Canson pastel paper, I laid in the sky with a piece of soft vine charcoal and smoothed it over with a tissue. The tone for the mountain was added and carried through the foreground without details. My main concern at this stage was just to work in my values.
The clouds were reworked with a stomp, dry finger and tissue to show more variations in the cloud shapes. With a kneaded eraser, I removed areas of charcoal to give the appearance of the sun setting behind the mountain.
I again went over the mountain area with the tissue to remove just a bit more charcoal, as I wanted a definite difference in values between the mountain and the base of the clouds. With a 2B charcoal pencil and a minimum of pressure, I added to the top of the mountain a fine ridge line from one end to the other. Then, using the stick of vine charcoal, the silhouettes of the foreground trees were added. Notice the lack of detail. They are just shapes. The clouds overhead were softened at their base, and the drawing was completed.
Incidental Clouds Here's a scene in which clouds and landscape work together to make a picture. Neither one is outstanding, but if you were to take one away, there would be no picture.
Begin by applying a light tone with an ebony graphite pencil. Make it a little darker tone on top than at the horizon at the bottom of the sky. (This gradation creates perspective.) When you have the sky laid in, smooth it out with your stomp and tissue. Cover the whole picture with a tone. Since there is nothing specific to draw around, it is easier to pick out the light areas with your kneaded eraser than to try putting the tone around each cloud. The result is a nice, even background color.
The clouds were accented with more darks, which makes the whites brighter. The trees are shapes with a minimum suggestion of trunks and limbs. It is not necessary to have a lot of detail; the shapes tell the story. The drawing was executed on Arches 140-lb. hot-press watercolor paper.
With a kneaded eraser, take out tone to create the light, fluffy parts of the clouds. Then add the darks, being careful not to overwork cloud shapes. Add some foreground elements to see how compatible the terrain will be with the sky.
You can create all kinds of drama with clouds: clouds flying across the sky, light rays coming from behind a cloud, dark clouds massing together before a storm and dispersing after the storm.
What you do with them creates the drama. Strong dark-and-light values and the energy created by your pencil strokes make clouds dramatic. Keep your cloud shapes simple as you work to capture the mood.
This sketch was worked with a soft, water-soluble pencil on 140-lb. Arches hot-press watercolor paper. All values are laid in until I achieve the mood I wish to express.
Next I take a soft brush, dip it in water, wipe it lightly on a rag, and starting from the top, draw the brush from left to right. After the entire sketch is wet, I come back again with a moist brush and start painting and pushing the graphite around. Try not to stay in one place too long. Move around the paper, rinsing and wiping your brush often to keep from dragging your darks into the light areas, which will tend to muddy things. Water-soluble pencils allow you to work your pencil into a wet area, rework a drawing when it is dry, and erase or lighten to recapture white areas that have been lost.
The greatest drama in the sky seems to take place at sunset. This charcoal sketch of a sunset was executed on a sheet of mould-made Somerset textured paper manufactured in England.
First, I lightly drew the clouds in position together with the mountain. Then, with a medium stick of vine charcoal, I laid a tone over the whole background. I smoothed it out with tissue and stomp to create that placid look in the sky that you see at sunset. I then took a 2B charcoal pencil and put in the clouds and mountain, slightly modeling the clouds with finger and stomp for texture. A kneaded eraser was used to lift charcoal from the clouds for the backlighting. To get the effect of the rays, I used a piece of paper with a straight edge and lifted tone with a kneaded eraser. With the stick of vine charcoal, I gently touched the clouds here and there for more dimension. The mountain was made a little darker, and the drawing was finished.
Was this article helpful?