How to paint clouds?
I'm looking for suggestions for painting decorative white clouds on an existing sky blue ceiling.
I think this would be perfect for our new baby's room. I do not have much artistic skill and do not
want to spend an enormous amount of time but I'd like the clouds to be recognizable and not too
garish. Is there a special kind of sponge I could use?
There are as many ways to paint skies as there are leaves on trees. What we will do here is
cover one way of doing them to create a realistic effect. Hopefully, it will improve the way many
of you have done them in the past, or provide a new method for those yet to try it.
What you'll need for this technique:
Acrylic glaze medium
Acrylic colors -- white, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, yellow ocher, and alizarin crimson
Several sea sponges
Two or three three-inch flat wall brushes
When painting a large area of sky on the ceiling or wall, it's best to mix a substantial amount of the deeper blue with our acrylic glaze, which we will use on the top of the wall or center of the ceiling --
depending on where we will be painting our sky. We will then mix some of this with white, to make
our next gradated color of pale blue. This we will then mix with still more white for a paler blue yet,
finally blending into an almost white or "golden sunset" at the bottom.
When doing a ceiling, I blend from deep blue in the center out to a very light blue along the edges
(photo 1). When done properly, this will add height to the room. I like the effect of blending to a
pale yellow above the windows -- assuming there is a light source, such as windows, in the room.
As we paint out our colors on the surface, we will leave a tidemark between the two shades. This
mark is blended by brushing across carefully, using vertical strokes to give it a tight, zigzag pattern
(photo 2). Then blend it with the badger blender horizontally, to smooth the intermediate shade
where the two have mixed (photo 3).
Once we're done with this, we then mix our acrylic glaze with white. With our sea sponge, we
begin to block in our clouds (photo 4). At this time, we can also add some additional color to the
cloud as we desire. We now blend out our cloud, blending up, then softly horizontally (photo 5). We then take our sea sponge and mottle the cloud (photo 6). The sponge should be softened in water, but
allow it to retain a little water -- not enough that it will run down your arm when pressed into the
cloud surface, but just enough to open up the glaze when we blend it. I normally blend in one
direction, at one o'clock and five o'clock. This opens it up very nicely (photo 7). Continue this
process across the ceiling at your desired locations.
Theory: Here are a few thoughts on the subject of clouds. The blue in the sky is deepest overhead, and gradually gets paler towards the horizon. In drier climates, on clear days, the change is not very
strong. In humid climates, it can change from deep blue overhead to a very pale blue (almost white) down to the horizon. Cerulean blue, widely available in many brands, is derived from the Latin word "caelum," meaning "sky." In my opinion, it's wise to stay away from cerulean blue. I find it has a
sort of turquoise harshness to it, even when mixed with white. Ultramarine is a darker, warmer blue. Of course, the color you use largely depends on your own taste.
When we painted murals, my instructor from France used to quote the French artist Boucher, who allegedly said, "The problem with nature is that it is too green and poorly lit!" A lot can be done to
avoid this possible imbalance by careful choice of your sky blue. On occasions, I have even added a hint of purple to match a large expanse of sky in an indoor painting with a particular color scheme.
Clouds come in various forms, and contain various degrees of shade. The dreamy and romantic
ones are cirrus clouds: They are the high, wispy ones often seen in isolation against a clear sky
(photo 8). The shape of such clouds can give rise to all kinds of emotions, and the presence of one or two of them can make all the difference in what might otherwise be a rather empty, monotonous
Nimbus clouds are the large, bulbous, solid-looking clouds, usually with white edges and gray undersides (photo 9). They create a strong impression against a blue sky, but you must be careful not to make them look too hard and regular in shape.
Your sky can also be broken up with areas of soft, mottled clouds without hard edges, which will
give a vaporish tone to the painting (photo 10). They're the ones I like the best on eight-foot ceilings in bedrooms. I recently finished a ceiling in a six-year-old girl's room. She came home from school
and ran up the stairs to check on the progress of her room. She stood there, looking at her ceiling
with a sense of astonishment, and said, "Why are you painting a hole in my ceiling?" What is that saying? From the mouths of babes...
When painting clouds in a large area, I normally start by doing a clear sky, and then making an
outline of the cloud area -- not in white, but a lighter version of the sky blue base. You should then
fill the areas in question with yet a lighter shade, and gradually take it towards white in its densest parts. Shading would be added where required, normally soft, purplish gray to light gray in color
Again, avoid hard edges. (This is what's nice about using a Filbert brush or sea sponge.) Then,
you go back and highlight the light source with some creamy yellows.