How To Paint Clouds With Watercolor

how to paint clouds with watercolor

Let’s learn how to paint clouds with watercolor, 3 step-by-step lessons that will rock your landscapes! Clouds are one of the most beautiful things to paint. They can be simple or complex, and there are endless possibilities when it comes to how you can paint them.

In this blog post, we will walk you through the basics of how to paint clouds with watercolor for beginners, as well as some advanced tips that will help make your paintings even more realistic!

If you are here I would assume you want to learn! Below are some projects that start very simple and progress to more advanced ideas. Grab some paper, paint, and brushes, and let’s paint!

Three easy ideas for painting awesome watercolor clouds

Step one is to always keep it simple. If there is a way to make something complicated humans tend to do it. But I can tell you from experience that the most beautiful clouds and skies are often the simplest. With that in mind, let’s start with a basic cloud shape.

how to paint clouds using lifting technique

Idea #1; Cumulous clouds

Start with gathering the right watercolor materials.

For this you will need the right supplies:

  • Good paper, I recommend and use Fabriano Artistico 140 lb cold press
  • Artist-grade watercolor paint (I am using a mix of ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, cadmium red light, neutral tint and burnt sienna)
  • Three brushes including a medium, or large wash brush, #12 pointed round, and #6 pointed round
  • A pencil to lay-in your drawings
  • And all the miscellaneous items like tape, water reservoirs, palette, etc.
Paint gradated wash with cerulean blue

Start with drawing & variegated wash

The first step is to draw a horizon line near the bottom of the page. Since the focus is clouds we want more sky and less land.

Once the line is drawn, pre-wet the paper and add a gradated wash using cerulean blue. Work the brushstrokes horizontally starting at the top and move downwards. Add another round of blue to the top of the sky. Yellow ochre is used to paint the ground plane.

Lift paint using paper towel to create clouds

Lift clouds with paper towel

Once the wash is in place grab a clean paper towel. Ball it up and start lifting paint. Don’t create too many clouds at first. Make the clouds bigger towards top of paper and gradually smaller as you approach the land.

Add gray wash to the cloud belly

Paint warm & cool gray on the bottom

Final step is to paint the bellies of the clouds using a cool gray. This adds a three-dimensional look which makes them more realistic. Start darker near the top, that’s because they are closer to you, and lighter in value as they move into the distance.

Use a small pointed round brush to add trees and shrubs. Keep it simple here since the focus is clouds and sky.

And that’s it! The simplest way to paint cumulous clouds is combining wet wash with the lifting technique. Add this technique to your landscape painting toolbox. Practice as much as you can and explore various color combinations.

how to paint storm clouds with watercolor

Idea #2; Paint storm clouds with multiple washes

We will follow the exact same steps as the cumulous clouds, but add a second wash for the storm clouds. For this use a saturated gray and large brush that’s loaded with plenty of paint. Make the storm clouds larger towards the right edge of the paper and taper them off as they move left.

Lifting paint with wash brush

Use lifting to add cloud variations

Next step is to lift some of the darker hues. This creates interest and subtle value shifts. Basically, you want to avoid a solid dark mass as it will look like a hole. Use a clean, damp wash brush to remove paint while it’s wet. Not too much, just a few places.

how to paint clouds with negative space techniques

Idea #3; Stunning watercolor clouds with negative space techniques

Negative space means to paint the background of an object. This technique is very handy for painting clouds! Start by pre-wetting the cloud area. Mix up some gray paint and apply it to the sky area. For variation, try adding a little red and yellow ochre.

how to paint clouds using negative space techniques

Add warm and cool gray hues

Allow this wash to dry 100%. Once dry, mix up cobalt and cerulean blue. Start at the top and work your way down painting around the cloud shapes. For more interest, make the blue more saturated in a few areas.

How to paint clouds using negative space

Add finishing touches

Paint the finishing touches by adding trees and bushes. Cast shadows give it a three dimensional look and can lead the eye into the scene. Add a simple foreground and that’s it! You just painted clouds with negative space, cool huh?


I hope you have found this helpful. Painting clouds can be a very rewarding experience, and it is always interesting to see how different artists approach the same subject matter. As with most things in art, practice makes perfect! Explore color and different cloud shapes. So, keep painting those clouds and I’m sure you will start to see some beautiful results.