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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:

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.


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.