Would you like to learn a shortcut to painting watercolor clouds? You can create cumulus clouds with both volume and airy beauty by combining watercolor with white gouache and colored pencils.
This is an easy technique where you don’t have to struggle with blue paint around unpainted blotches of white paper. Instead, you can splash out with color and still create beautiful cloud shapes.
In this tutorial, I take you through each step of building clouds with volume using watercolor, white gouache, blue, and light purple colored pencils, as well as a greasy white colored pencil. I use the combination of these tools in most of my illustration work, and if you take a peek at my illustration gallery, you can see many examples of how I use it to create a realistic look.
The cloud tutorial
The photo below of cumulus clouds is a good reference. There is no need to try to replicate these exact clouds; they only serve as a guide to our painting.
Paint some green, yellow and terracotta to indicate a landscape at the bottom of the paper. Soak up most of the color with a sponge. When dry, paint the rest of the paper with lots of plain water using a thick brush.
Still using a thick brush, spread out ultramarine blue by moving the brush in circular motions.
Indicate the shapes of the clouds by soaking up blue color with a sponge.
When half dry, paint with white gouache on top of the cloud shapes.
Add water to the edges to avoid sharp outlines.
When dry, draw with a light purple pencil around the edges of the clouds and anywhere on top of them to create volume.
Smudge the areas of colored pencil with tissue paper.
Paint the clouds with a second layer of white gouache, again adding water to the edges, soaking up with a sponge.
The edges around the painting look messy by now, so in order to see the picture clearly, clean up the edges by painting with white gouache on top of the white watercolor tape. If your painting sits within a pencil rectangle, paint with white gouache along the pencil border.
When the paper is dry, draw with a bright blue pencil on and around the clouds, creating more volume in the clouds.
Smudge again with tissue paper.
Use a hairdryer to make the paper warm, then draw with a greasy white colored pencil. When the paper is warm, the oily white color spreads out better. Look at the reference photo and use your imagination to enhance the cloudy look of your painting with the white pencil.
And that’s it!
I used this same technique to create the white area around the falcon in the illustration you see below. In this instance, instead of building cloud volume, I created a soft and smooth transition between the blue and white with the same white gouache and greasy white colored pencil.