Painting the Clouds

Clouds always seem to be a problem for the landscape artist. First of all, they move, g constantly change shape, and generally don't give you enough time to accurately draw u them. Of course, a cloud will stay still in a photograph. Often, though, if you simply o

2 copy a photograph, the cloud will look static and not have the fleeting and insubstantial tial characteristics that are so important when painting clouds.

^ While there are many different types of clouds, this exercise will concentrate

^ on the large and fluffy cumulonimbus variety. These are the clouds that reach high

£ into the atmosphere and are often associated with storm fronts. They are also my

œ favorite type of cloud to paint.

It is usually better to paint the impression of clouds rather than try to copy them, so that is the approach in this painting where no reference for the clouds is used.

Note: All the paper textures, patterns, and brushes that were used to create this painting are available to download at www.sybex.com/go/painter.

Before we paint, we need to create a new canvas to paint on and prepare it for the rest of the session.

1. Create a new image using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+N (F+N on the Mac).

2. Change the default resolution to 300 dpi (dots per inch) if you plan to print your image, and enter 900 in the Height box and 1200 in the Width box. Make sure that your unit of measurement is pixels and not inches.

3. Because this will be a landscape painting, fill the canvas with a mid-value blue color. A mid-value color would generally be too dark for a sky, but because this will be a sunset scene, the sky can be significantly darker.

4. Large expanses of flat color are boring visually and boring to paint on, so go ahead and add a Lighting effect to make the sky a bit more interesting.

The Lighting effect is in the Effects > Surface Control menu. The Apply Lighting options box opens where you can select and preview a number of lighting schemes before applying them to the canvas. In this case, we'll probably paint over the entire canvas, so it's not critical which lighting preset you choose. Choose the Splashy Color preset and click OK. Figure 2.1 shows the Apply Lighting controls.

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Figure 2.1 The Apply Lighting options and controls

Now is a good time to save your work. Make sure that you get in the habit of saving your painting frequently. Frequently backing up the painting can save you a lot of grief in later stages when you may want to go back to an earlier version and make corrections or change the direction of the painting. Saving often also protects you against the occasional act of God, like unexpected thunderstorms that can cause power outages.

Save the image.

Now that the canvas is more interesting to look at with nice warm and cool gradations across the image, let's begin painting.

Usually when I start a painting, I draw a preliminary sketch, but in this case I really have no concrete idea of what the image is going to look like, so there is no initial sketch. All I know is that there will be a sky at sunset with some water and rocks in the foreground. For this painting, we will work on individual layers and progress

5 \ I y from the farthest elements in the image painted on the lower layers to the nearest pictorial elements on the top layers.

1. Create a new layer for painting the clouds. Name the layer Clouds.

Get in the habit of naming the layers you create. In an image that will have as few layers as this one, naming is less important, but some images may have many layers. It can become hard to find a specific layer if they are all named Layerl, 2, 3, and so on.

2. When you create a new layer, always check the Pick Up Underlying Color box so your brushstrokes will interact with the colors in underlying layers. Of course, the amount of interaction with the underlying color depends on which particular brush you use. Some brushes interact more than others, but it is a good habit to make sure this box is checked regardless. If you don't check the box initially, it is not a critical mistake since you can check it at any time, but you may get some brushstrokes that do not behave as you expect.

3. Using Dons Brush set to a low Opacity setting of 20%, paint in some big masses of color for the base of the sunlit clouds. Vary the color, intensity, and value of these initial strokes. Concentrate lighter and more intense colors at the top of the cloud shapes and less intense darker colors at the bottom.

Note: All the brushes are available for download in a zip file called Book Brushes.zip. < ^^^ You should have all of them installed and ready to use for the remainder of the tutorial. If you need help installing the brushes, please refer to the Painter help file.

S Because we have no cloud reference, the shapes and placement of the strokes are o not critical. You do want to consider the eventual direction of the light in the painting

P and paint the strokes accordingly. In this case, the light will enter from the right and

< slightly in front of the scene, and the cloud shapes are painted accordingly. Figure 2.2

shows the loose conglomeration of brushstrokes that will eventually become clouds. h 4. Using the same brush but at a smaller size, begin to refine the cloud shapes a

% bit more. There appears to be more detail, yet there really is not. I am simply u building on the earlier image to solidify the shapes of my clouds a bit while still maintaining the option of changing anything or everything.

The word refining can sound ambiguous. When I say refine, I am starting to have a clearer mental vision of what I want these clouds to look like, and I start to paint that vision with a bit more detail. Yet because I want to keep the painting process fluid and subject to revision and change, I try to keep away from too much detail early in this process. Almost invariably when adding specifics and fine details to a painting early on, these details will be wrong, but because you spent so much time painting them, changing them can be hard mentally as well as technically.

Figure 2.3 shows the refining process. Notice that darker colors are added into what will be the shadow side of the clouds and in their bases to give some weight to the forms.

Cloud Painting Techniques
Figure 2.2 Large, random brushstrokes that will eventually represent clouds in the painting

Figure 2.3 Smaller and not quite as random brushstrokes are used to add more darks and lights into the cloud shapes, giving them a bit more dimension and weight.

Clouds are not usually thought of as having weight because they float in the sky. But painting them without thought to their form and weight usually results in clouds that really don't look like clouds.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

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