Warmup – Clouds

Today’s warmup exercise:

Clouds. At last! Something I have always wanted to master. I’m counting on the book from which I am learning, the Tate Watercolor Manual,* to show me how. Since the full title of my go-to book of today invokes the great masters, for this lesson they chose one whose sky-work is unsurpassed: John Constable.

Constable was a contemporary of both Turner and Girtin. According to my book, his unique contribution to watercolor was his portrayal of ‘natural’ landscapes. “They can truly be described as ‘natural’, due to the lack of complex finish and the absence of complicated processes used for the painting. The artist aspired to portray nature as it actually is.” *pp 111.

The book encourages one to look at actual clouds and notice how shadows fall and where the blue of the sky comes through, if at all. Get to know the moodiness of the sky, they say.

For the exercises below, I used the demonstration photograph as a basis for my fictive (my word for the day) cloudscape. In the top panels, I laid down cobalt blue first, leaving a lot of white space for the mass of the clouds. I used neutral tint to demark shadow areas. On the bottom two panels, I used neutral tint first, again leaving much space for the whiteness of the cloud and laid down cobalt blue last.  The book recommended that shadows be deepened after the original sketch dried.

It seems clear that a variety of brushstrokes are required to recreate the natural look of the sky. For example, sometimes clouds can be realistically rendered by ‘feathered’ strokes; sometimes the side of the brush can provide just the right look.

Watercolor: Cloud Studies

Cloud Studies

The process of learning watercolor painting is cumulative: Earlier lessons must be incorporated into later ones for progress to be made.


Tate Watercolour Manual, Lessons from the Great Masters by Tony Smibert and Joyce Townsend

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