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Painting Clouds in Adobe Photoshop

By Chris Arlidge

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This digital painting tutorial requires the use of Adobe Photoshop. I used Adobe Photoshop 7 but older versions of Photoshop can be used as well (as early as 5.5) and assumes that you have a stylus and tablet (Wacom or otherwise). This can be attempted with a mouse but you would have to adjust all your brush settings, like opacity and size manually.

The sample cloud study for the tutorial took around 40 minutes for me to complete, it was done quickly for illustration purposes. You can spend as much time as you like, remember time isn't important, the end result is. I also used a fairly small canvas size (1200x700 pixels) and zoomed out to 66.7% for most of the painting.

Its also a good idea to use some photo reference of clouds in the beginning, it will help you build a repetoire of cloud formations, etc. I am still working on mine. :)

Now on to the tut!

1) Selecting your Brush.

Adobe Photoshop is a wonderful program with great advances in its brush engine. Creating brushes is easy and intuitive. For this tutorial I use primarily one brush and below are the steps used to create it.

Open the Brushes Palette:

-Opacity -You will want to turn off the opacity jitter for now.
-Brush Tip Shape - Set your spacing low, I use 7% here.
-Flow - On the brush tool bar set your flow to a low setting, I have chosen 10%

Keep in mind that on larger canvases settings like these can degrade performance but for this example it shouldnt be a problem.

Brush Tip Shape
Opacity Jitter



2. We need to create a sky background. Now there are a million different ways to do this. One way might be to paint it by hand using larger brush strokes and blending your own graduated atmospheret. For the purposes of this tutorial I have chosen to 'cheat' a bit and use a gradient. You will see the basic settings I have chosen in the screen shot to the left. It's a linear gradient with foreground color to background color slected.

Gradient fill

3. Applying the gradient vertically with the gradient tool we end up with something like this. Its pretty rich for a sky...but I like it so lets continue.

Layers - Add clouds

4. We are ready to begin painting the clouds. So we need to create a new layer. We do this In the layers palette by either using the new layer icon at the bottom or using the flyout menu on the top right - create a new layer. Name it 'clouds'.

Cloud Base

5. On the cloud layer, taking a fairly large brush (Size jitter should be set to pen pressure in the brushes pallete) begin painting in the cloud base and shapes with a darker color from your sky background (you can do this easily by using the eyedroper tool 'i' and clicking over an area color you want or alternately when you have the brush tool selected pressing 'alt'). Be loose here, in nature things are random, and should look that way.

Highlight Base

6. Now we need to add some highlights. If you are nervous about this step, create another layer and name it highlights. In this tutorial, however I choose to go for broke and paint the highlights on the cloud layer. :) Take a pinkish-peach color and begin adding in some highlight areas, thinking about light direction and volume. This is personally one of the hardest steps for me, it is often where I will give up on a painting.

Blend in Volume

7. Blending in some volume. In order to do this it helps if we set our brush settings for Opacity Jitter back to Pen Pressure (remember in Step 1 we set it to 'off'). So taking in some less saturated pink and blending it with the cloud base you can begin to see some volume developing.

Blend in Volume

8. Some more blending. In here I am adding some slightly light values of blue to some areas of the 'shadowed' clouds for depth. I have also added a little whispy tendril of soft cloud in the left center fo the image for some more interest. Alot of the blending is done from picking colors from the canvas using the 'alt' key for the eyedropper. This is a very handy trick to learn.

Choose foreground color

9. Another highlight stage, picking an even lighter shade of pink for the intense highlights.

Add Highlights

10. Begin adding the highlights again to areas you feel would recived the highest highlight. This is going to add further volume to your clouds, but be careful and don't over do it here.

Blend back blue

11. Here I have blended some lighter shades of blue to soften and balance some the pink, also adding some slight touches in subtle streaks to the foreground.

More blend

12. More of the same from step 11.

Add detail to foreground.

13.) Adding detail to the foreground area by way of adding some lighter highlites and streaks. I also added some volume to that little soft tuft of whispy cloud in the left center. Some of these changes may not be immediately noticable, but they are there. :)

Layers - Whispy

14.Well this pic needs some more whispy clouds. So we are going to create anew layer called 'whispy'. Create a new layer above the background layer, and your layers pallete should look something like mine to the right.

Add Whispy

15. With a larger brush take a highlight color from your cloud layer (remember the eyedropper tool) and 'loosely' - in sweeping strokes add in some whispy clouds. Vary it up a bit with some darker blues sampled from the canvas.

Blend whispy

16. Blend them to a smoothness that makes you happy. This is achieved by using your stylus and opacity, not the smudge tool, nor the blur tool. I also added in some lighter whisps to the foreground.


The Final


Well thats it...I could have taken this one alot further, but hopefully you get the idea. Happy painting!

This tutorial was created by Chris Arlidge of