I want my clouds to have depth and form – any advice?
Aaron Hewitt, US
I love to draw and paint clouds. They’re evocative and come in infinite varieties of shape, size and colour – a very flexible tool in your compositional toolbox! Learning to conceive of the volume of your clouds and smoke elements will make your images more compelling and convincing.
Consider the atmosphere for what it truly is: an ocean of air, with layers, currents and tides. Although clouds can feel flat as background elements, always bear in mind that they’re fully dimensional forms, affected by the atmosphere around them. I often use this idea to give a sense of motion to the clouds in my paintings. Ponder the weather and wind in your scene and how it might affect the clouds.
Clouds are water vapour that diffuses light throughout them. Dense clouds can appear very opaque, yet other clouds appear lit from within by light bouncing around inside the form. Many clouds are flattened at the bottom by air layers, so you can make these areas darker. Often, areas of complex cloud shapes will throw bounce light onto other areas, and this can be quite dramatic. Smaller clouds in front of large clouds can appear dark and silhouetted for more depth in your scene. Whenever possible, observe and photograph real clouds to build up your understanding of their behaviour. It’ll really pay off!
Shadowing, bounce light and edge lighting convey dimension and form, and layering the clouds gives a feeling of depth and even motion. I use smoke, foreground and background cloud shapes as compositional elements. The figure’s cloak and banner accentuate the sense of wind.