Cloud Study with Birds

How to paint clouds.

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a mission to paint cloud studies every day of the week. Two of these studies are on the website (the other one is Sea, Clouds and Boats with gouache and ink). The one I am showing you today was inspired by John Constable.

John Constable was a self-taught artist of the 19th century, who became famous for his landscapes. He spent a lot of time studying nature and painting en plein air (out of doors). He painted numerous studies of different aspects of nature, making notes on the weather conditions, topographical orientation and time of day. Constable was more famous in Paris than in England during his lifetime. He later became an inspiration for the Barbizon School (important precursors of the Impressionists) and the French Romantic movement.

In Constable’s Cloud Study, the small sliver of landscape along the bottom margin of the panel and the tiny birds create a very dramatic effect.

This was one of the days when I had only a few minutes to devote to painting. This very quick study took me 15 minutes to complete (plus a few minutes of drying between Steps 2 and 3).

Cloud Study, John Constable, 1776–1837, British, 1821, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.




For this project, I used:

  • blue, white, black and red gouache (red for the pink and purple accents at the end)

  • one or two flat bristle brushes

  • a black pen to draw the birds at the end.



Step 1 – Paint the blue sky

For some reason, I spontaneously began with splashes of blue where the sky is visible in between the clouds. I then used more water on my brush to paint a big wash of soft blue everywhere else, and a darker blue at the bottom of the painting.

I notice that I worked in a very similar way in this other study of clouds, Sea, Clouds and Boats with gouache and ink. It is not entirely logical, though, and I would find it difficult to explain why I proceeded this way! When I paint, I sometimes follow my instinct without thinking too much about it and, more often than not, I look at the picture after which I am working as if it were some sort of abstract painting (more on this in the tutorial about how to draw a self-portrait).

At the end of this first step, I used a dry cloth to dry the painting and smudge everything.

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:55. It actually took me 3 minutes.


Step 2 – Paint white and grey clouds with gouache

As a second step, I used white gouache to outline the clouds, and added more or less black to achieve a whole range of greys to create shadows in the clouds. I added a lot of layers here.

I also noticed that there was an element of perspective in Constable’s painting (not to mention the tiny strip of landscape at the bottom), and that the clouds are smaller and flatter in the lower tier of the painting.

In the short video above, this runs from 01:56 to 02:23. It actually took me 8 minutes.


Step 3 – Add touches of pink and purple and draw the birds in ink

The third step adds the details. I added a transparent layer of a few pink and purple clouds (white gouache, a tiny little bit of red and a lot of water), then I let everything dry for a while.

When everything was dry, I added a few birds with a black pen. Do not underestimate the dramatic effect of these little black birds. For maximum effect, use a light touch with the clouds to give the birds more impact.

In the short video above, this runs from 02:24 to 04:06. It actually took me 6 minutes.


And voilà!

And voilà! This little study is another great page for my sketchbook, and it took me just 15 minutes. I can also frame it!

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in a regular art practice.

The finished drawing | Cloud Study with Birds, by The Daily Atelier


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other projects with gouache. Enjoy!