Paint Dramatic Skies in Watercolor: Storm Clouds

It is such a pleasure to introduce you to Christina Keim from @bonfireart on Instagram. She is a talented watercolor artist inspired by things that cross her path every day in real life, stories or images via Instagram. She has a Society 6 store, RedBubble and Skillshare platform.



Hey, my name is Christina. I’m a watercolor artist based in Argentina and you can find me as @BonfireArt on Instagram and Facebook.


I recently published my first online class on Skillshare. It‘s about painting a dramatic sky full of storm clouds with watercolor and I’m so honored that Stacey invited me to share my process in this little tutorial on her blog.

For a sneak peek into my class you can watch the introduction video here:


The full class is available on Skillshare. If you are not a member already you can subscribe to their premium membership directly through this link and get the first two month free: https://skl.sh/37yaWLY


And now, without further ado, let’s take a look at the supplies you need to paint a sky full of clouds with me and then dive right into the step by step process. In the end, you’ll have created your own dramatic sky painting and also learned some of the key techniques in watercolor, that you can apply to your next projects as well.


Supplies


Here you can see all the supplies I used for the painting. You don’t need the exact same ones, what you have at hand will do:

· Watercolor Paper, preferably 300g / 140 lb and 100 % cotton. The one I use is Khadipaper from India.

· 1 medium sized flat & 1 round Brush. Mine are from the Craftamo Water Edition. Also, a bigger flat brush is very helpful to wet the paper in the beginning.

· Watercolors. I used Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor in Payne’s Grey, Cerulean Blue and Prussian Blue.

· A mixing tray (e.g. a porcelain plate)

· Two jars of water (one for clear water and another one to clean the brushes).

· Masking tape

· Cardboard or something similar to tape the paper on

· Paper towels or a cloth to dry the brushes


Color Swatches and Practice



Before starting a bigger piece, I recommend that you swatch your colors and practice a bit with them, to see how they mix and blend and how they behave on the paper. This is especially helpful if you use new colors or a new paper brand. Also, when you want to use complementary colors in your piece that may end up creating unforeseen muddy colors.





Painting the Storm Clouds


Before you start painting, tape the watercolor paper to the cardboard. This keeps the paper from buckling when you put down the various layers of color and water. It also creates a nice clean edge on the finished piece.

In a first step, wet the whole paper with clear water using a big flat brush.


It’s important that the whole paper is evenly wet with a thin coat of water. If there’s too much water, it will make puddles and the paper won’t be able to absorb the colors, they will just float around uncontrollably. You can pick up excess water with the cloth, a paper towel or a damp / dry brush.

For even better color control, let the paper sit a minute or so. The cotton fibers will absorb the water and on the damp paper the colors will spread less, once you start painting.

Keep in mind, that this will not work on student grade paper, that’s made mostly or entirely of cellulose fiber. Those dry much faster and you will have to work either more quickly or re-wet the paper as necessary during the process.

For the first layer of color, use your medium sized flat brush and a very light, watered down shade of your lightest blue. I used my Cerulean Blue here.




As you can observe in the picture, I painted the part in the center in a very light shade of blue and applied a darker shade on the top and bottom, carefully mixing in a tiny bit of Prussian Blue.

As you will paint lots of clouds over this first layer, it’s not necessary that the gradient is totally perfect.







With a clean cloth or paper towel, pick some of the blue in the upper part back up from the paper to be able to create white clouds in this area.

Like I said before, this trick works fine on cotton paper and is much more difficult when you paint on student grade paper. In that case it would be easier to leave parts of the top lighter or even white from the beginning.






Now take up the flat brush again and begin to dab in the clouds. My go to color for this is Payne’s Grey, because it’s very versatile and has a blueish undertone that I think is just perfect for clouds.

Start with a very light shade of grey and make slightly curved dabbing motions with your brush, to give the clouds a bit of a fuzzy, fluffy look. The paper should still be wet when you do this and slowly dry during the cloud painting process. This makes the colors spread less and less while you continue to layer the clouds from lighter to darker shades of grey.



As you can see, I apply the darker shade on the bottom of every cloud or cloud layer to give them depth and dimension.

This is the part I enjoy most when painting cloudy skies, it’s almost magical and very relaxing to watch, how the paint spreads and creates beautiful clouds almost on it’s own. So, my advice here is: Don’t think to much about what you’re doing, let your hand go here and there dabbing the layers in and just enjoy the process of creating!!

If you happen to apply too much paint or if it’s too dark in some places, pick some of the pigment back up with the damp brush and apply it elsewhere. When the piece is almost dry, these tiny brush strokes or dabs with dark color add marvelously to the fuzzy cloud effect.





To differentiate the clouds better from the sky, in the end I touch up on some of the light blue areas in between the clouds.



And there you have it:






A beautiful sky full of fluffy clouds coming in – maybe a storm but maybe only some clouds in passing…

Let your background dry completely while thinking of elements that you want to place in the foreground.

There are endless possibilities, but I like to stick to silhouettes in the lower part of my dramatic sky paintings to keep the focus on the sky and clouds themselves. The foreground helps to accentuate the sky while at the same time connecting it to the earth. Therefore, I often paint different trees or bushes, power lines, mountains, houses or city skylines in the foreground.





For this piece I used my medium sized round brush, looked out of my window on the first floor of our house and basically just painted the silhouettes of various trees and objects I can see from there. You can obviously vary the size of your brush according to the shapes you want to paint.








Here I used a rigger brush for the cables and the streetlamp for example.

That’s it – nice and easy…

After the paint dries, it’s time for the most satisfying (or on occasion the most frustrating) step: removing the tape and revealing the finished piece!!






Here are some tips for tape removal: Peel the tape slowly and at an angle pointing away from the painted image. If a bit of the paper surface comes off, you can smooth it down with a drop of clean water on your finger – without touching the paint – and the damage won’t be visible anymore. You can also use a hair dryer to apply heat before removing the tape – it will come off more easily then.






Now, sign your art and that’s it!!


I hope you had fun painting clouds with me – I surely did. If you’re not happy with your piece, take another sheet of paper and start over. Like everything in life, your new skill will evolve through practice and experiments. So, don’t be afraid and just relax into the magic of watercolor.


If you want to share your painting on social media, I would be absolutely thrilled if you tagged me so I can see your work. Also, don’t hesitate to contact me through my social media channels with any question you might have. I’m happy to help.


For a more detailed version of this process, you can also access my Skillshare class and paint directly along with me at any time. There are steps that are difficult to explain but maybe much clearer if you can see what I’m doing in real time (- if you have no interest in subscribing to the platform, but still want to take my class, contact me and I can provide you with a free access link for this class only).


And now, HAPPY PAINTING!!


Best wishes from Christina

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