Start by just looking up.

Ever since a fellow artist challenged me to include a sky in one of my drawings, I have been keeping my mind in the clouds. I am continually amazed at the beauty of just looking up in the sky! Over the past couple of years, I have been learning the importance of toning the sky and adding clouds as part of overall compositional improvement in my landscapes. I think I could spend hours and hours fiddling with each puff of white!

Start looking up to the sky and observe cloud formations. Take photos of clouds and you will be amazed at what you will start to “see”!

What’s the purpose of a sky?

Is it important to put a sky in? There isn’t any clouds in the sky so why should I shade it? I use to think this and if you visit my website, you will see many of my earlier works did not include a toned sky. For a long time I didn’t even “see” tone in the sky. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the impact of adding a toned sky to the overall landscape. Here are some of the things a toned sky will do for your drawing:

  1. Broadens the range of tones available in your drawing. The white of the paper can now represent the highlights  only.
  2. Creates uniformity to your drawing composition
  3. Adds an additional sense of reality to your landscape.
  4. Adds atmosphere and sets the ‘mood’ of the scene.

Here is a drawing done to illustrate the importance of a toned sky and why the sky/clouds should be considered in the overall compositional study of any landscape.

In this series of drawings, I have chosen to a very simple scene with a white barn. My only variable in the three drawings is the inclusion of a sky and clouds.

The first image is a drawing without a sky. The drawing is very stark and the sky (the white of the paper) is competing with the white of the barn.

The second image is much better by adding a toned sky. The white barn is now the focal point as the toned sky accentuates and brings the entire scene together much better.

The third image incorporates a toned sky as well as including clouds. The clouds add depth to the scene as the clouds recede into the distance. They also create a visual directional flow for the viewer.  The clouds lead the eye through the drawing and add interest as well.

drawing skies 1 diane wright

Cloud Formations and Cloud Types

  • Stratus – Wispy light clouds
  • Cumulus – white puffy…cottony
  • Dramatic – rain clouds – thunderheads
  • Back lit clouds – sunsets


  • Skies are lighter at the horizon and go darker as you go up the sky
  • Clouds use perspective – smaller and tighter the farther in the distance they are
  • Unless the sky is the central part of the drawing, light wispy or under-stated clouds work well
  • Use clouds to lead the viewer through your landscape
  • Clouds have form and are 3 dimensional – they just don’t have any lines are hard edges
  • The more dramatic clouds – the darker the base tone should be (this allows more range of

Drawing Materials:

This is a very specific list of the materials that I use. Substitutions can certainly be used. Experimentation and adjustments are expected to customize these techniques to your style of drawing.

  • .5 mm Mechanical Pencils F and 2H lead
  • Chamois
  • Tortillion – small
  • Blu-Tack
  • White plastic eraser
  • Small Ruler or T-square
  • Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board
  • Make-up brush

4 Steps – Drawing a Sky with Clouds:


I use a loose-hold hand position when creating the cross-hatching. I find the just weight of the pencil on the paper will create pencil strokes that are light and consistent.

drawing skies diane wright 2

I cross-hatch 3 layers of graphite onto my paper using the F lead. The first layer is placed horizontal on the surface, the next two layers are diagonal.

how to draw sky 3


Using a chamois wrapped around my index finger, I blend the graphite smooth. Chamois with a firm, and even pressure. It may take several passes with the chamois to create a smooth even tone. Be sure to blend over the edges of the drawing area as well as overlapping the buildings, trees and horizon areas. It is much easier to erase than to add a missed section later.

how to draw clouds 4

Avoid touching the surface of the paper with your fingers. It is at this point in the blending process that blemishes or finger prints will magically appear. If they appear, it is very difficult to fix (unless they happen to be in a cloud formation) and many times I just have to start over!

I will add 2 more layers of crosshatching with 2H lead and blend with the chamois again. This creates a nice smooth finish. I trim the edges of the drawing using a t-square ruler and a plastic eraser.

Drawing Tutorial Skies 5


I use a mars plastic eraser with a chisel edge and erase my clouds into the sky. For light wispy clouds I use blu-tak and just drag it across the surface.

how to draw clouds 6


Use a 2H lead pencil to layer in darker areas next to the whitest tops of the clouds. A tortillion is used to blend in and work in the details. By blending, lifting, erasing and layering in more graphite, the clouds emerge on the paper.

drawing skies 7

I soften the clouds by using the blu-tack. To make more dramatic clouds darken the background sky. This allows white cottony clouds to be more fully formed. Keep in mind that unless your drawing’s emphasis is the clouds, they should not compete with the rest of the landscape. They should be subtle and gently lead the viewer’s eye through the scene. Typically I use light wisps and hints of clouds in most of my landscapes.

I usually spend 5-8 hours just drawing the sky and cloud areas. PATIENCE is key in creating smooth skies.

Once you the basic technique of creating smooth tones and general cloud formations, the sky is the limit to all the possibilities and variations you can create. Every moment… every hour… every day…every season…the sky changes it’s mood and design, providing us with an unlimited resource of inspiration to our landscapes.

 how to draw clouds 8

Step 1:
Sketch out your clouds with pencil. You can use a blue colored pencil or a regular pencil. We are drawing cumulus clouds, so make them mostly flat on the bottom and lumpy on top. In nature, warm rising air pushes the clouds up into the atmosphere making them tall and puffy. In your case, you can just draw overlapping circles and ovals to form your clouds ~ no warm rising air required!

How to Draw Clouds Step 1

Step 2:
Using your pencil or a marker, draw the cloud’s lumps. It’s sort of like drawing “M”s, so stop after two or three and start a new set of lumps attached to the side of the previous ones. Also vary the size of the cloudy lumps to add variety to your clouds’ edges. Remember to keep the bottom of the clouds mostly straight.

How to Draw Clouds Step 2

Step 3:
Now you can erase or lighten the basic cloud shapes you drew in step 1 of “How to Draw Clouds Step by Step.” Once that is done, It’s time to add some shadingDraw hatch marks to indicate the shady side if your cloud. The hatch marks should form curves and shapes that help define the volume of the clouds. After all, these clouds are puffy on the sides too!

How to Draw Clouds Step 3

How to Draw Clouds Step by StepCompleting your Cloudscape

Step 4:
Now, you already have some pretty nice looking clouds. Great job!

Now it’s time to to turn your drawing into a cloudscape. It’s time to draw the sun and color the sky. Technically I have added my sun to the wrong side of the clouds for the shading to be correct. But, this is where my daughter wanted the sun and I was not paying attention to the direction of light indicated by the shading a the time. We all make mistakes, so yourself some too. You may want to put your sun on the right side of the clouds to be more accurate.

To give my sun extra visual energy, have added some orange curly strokes and a halo around its edges. Feel free make our own interesting marks. This is part of what makes artwork different from a photograph. The key difference lies in your personal artistic touch!

How to Draw Clouds Step 4

Step 5:
Finish off your lesson with a pretty blue sky. By using hatching in groups of strokes, give the sky some texture as if there are more distant clouds in the atmosphere.

How to Draw Clouds Step 5

How to Draw Clouds

Clouds are beautiful, serene objects and no landscape image would be complete without them. While it may look easy, drawing clouds requires some good techniques to get the right effects. To create a realistic image, it’s not as simple as just drawing a couple poofy objects in the sky. So if you’ve never been able to draw clouds before, or just want to know another method of drawing clouds, keep reading to learn my technique.

First, as with almost any drawing, you will need to lightly outline the general shape of your clouds. Don’t focus on perfection here. Allowing yourself to draw freely will lead to a more organic look and more realistic results in the end.

Next it’s time to block in the area surrounding your clouds. Because clouds are white, it is easier to start by filling in the background first to give you a sense of the cloud’s form. Try your best to smoothly shade the background by blending with a piece of tissue, a blending stump, or your finger if necessary.

Once you have your background in place, and the negative space that will become your cloud, you can now begin giving it volume by shading. Start lightly to get a feel for how dark you will need to shade to achieve the lighting conditions you’re looking for. Even though a cloud is white, it still has highlights and shadows. Generally, the edges of clouds are stark white, with the interior being a very light shade of grey. However, darker grays on top of whiter whites will give you the appearance that the sun is coming from directly behind your clouds.

Remember, always start out light. It’s easier to go back over your shading to get it a little darker than it is to erase and go lighter!

This entry was posted on Monday, November 12th, 2012 at 5:17 pm and is filed under Illustrator Alley. You can leave a comment and follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Comments are closed.