Exercise 37: Drawing cloud formations
Draw tonal studies of cloud formations in charcoal, oil pastel and conte with the aid of a putty rubber. Draw quickly and try to give volume to the clouds.
Clouds are harder to draw than one might think.
Charcoal seemed the most approachable of the suggested media, so I began by sweeping it across the paper and smearing it with a piece of kitchen roll (see above). However, I ran into problems straight away as I struggled to erase enough of the charcoal to create the lightest highlights. Maybe I need a new putty rubber – my current one is pretty grungy now, however much I knead it. It was late afternoon, and I think the clouds were strato cumulus. The highlights were the tops of the clouds, with the darker tones below. I used my finger and a torchon for blending, as well as the kitchen roll.
The second charcoal sketch (above) depicts what looked like a dense ‘tunnel’ of cloud. The sky was quite light on either side of it, so it was a striking sight… very unusual. As with the first sketch, this was on Dartmoor, in late afternoon. The ground below was thrown into silhouette by the brightness of the sky. Not even sure this looks like a cloud, but it’s really how it was.
The difficulties with the putty rubber meant that I wasn’t able to create the volume or wispiness I’d have liked in the third charcoal sketch (above). This was at about 6pm, looking out of the window to the houses across the road. The sky was starting to grow dark (with low light coming from the right hand side), and the clouds were ephemeral patches of light, with no discernible dark tones. The darkest things I could see were the silhouetted rooftops and the telephone wire running from one side of the street to the other. Once again, I used kitchen roll and a blending stump.
The last charcoal sketch (above) is another Dartmoor view (drawn from a photograph I took). Late afternoon, with crepuscular rays over the hills. They were quite subtle, so the ineffectual putty rubber actually worked well here, not lifting out too much charcoal. The light was bursting forth from below the dark band of cloud, as well as on either side of it.
The conte crayon sketch (above) shows Dartmoor on a sunny but blustery afternoon in October. There was a strong blue sky, which grew paler towards the horizon. The clouds were fast-moving, and I tried to capture this by using directional strokes. The underside of the clouds was a lightish blue-grey, with the light coming from my right-hand side. The sloping hillside was lined with distant scattered stones and browning clusters of grasses. The yellow grass was in shadow in the mid-ground, with greener grass in the foreground where it was less exposed. This was all done very quickly, but I think it gives a flavour of the day quite well.
I hesitated to include the oil pastel sketch (above), but I know this learning log is a place for the good, the bad, and the ugly… so here it is! My experience of oil pastels is limited, but so far I loathe them. They are almost impossible to blend, which makes it equally impossible to achieve the desired colours. I was trying to get a peachy gold here, not that anyone would know it. Horrid sticky blighters… it was like drawing with lard. This was early evening, with a strong blue sky, as the sun was beginning to set. The darker areas were what looked like dark blue clouds behind the lighter ones. Some of the shadows on the underside of the clouds looked mauve-grey which I tried to create by using red with the blue, not very successfully.
The graphite drawing (above) was done working from a photo I took in Wales. It was sunset, with bright edges to the clouds as the sun was sinking, and radiant shadows across the sky from behind the clouds. The land was completely in silhouette.
The final sketch was done using pastel pencils, on orange sugar paper. They proved to be much easier to use than conte crayons, due to having a finer point. That said, the nibs kept breaking as they were so soft, but I used the tiny broken bits on their sides and found this worked really well. This is my favourite of all the drawings for this exercise, as it shows the volume of the clouds quite well. The light came from the right hand side, and the darkest shadows were a deep grey. However, I opted to use Prussian Blue blended with white for them. There was a beautiful blue sky, but the clouds were gathering rain which was just starting to fall out at sea. The clouds were reflecting slightly on the water, as they were very low. There were a few very pale streaks of cloud radiating from the main cloud, and I used the bits of broken white nib to indicate these.
Obviously, this exercise is really just a beginner’s sample of clouds – something to be continued at length.