I headed back down to the coast today, hoping the heavy cloud would clear. It didn’t.

I tossed up whether to paint a seascape despite the lack of sunlight but it just wasn’t inspiring. However, looking out  to the horizon, from a high vantage point above Lowlands Beach, I did find some interest in the large cumulus clouds. So I decided to paint them instead.

Plein air clouds painting in oils by Andy Dophin
(Lowlands Clounds. Plein air sketch. 20x30cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Since I almost never paint plein air clouds in any amount of detail, I treated this as an exercise.

Clouds are constantly changing and you may not realise just how fast they change until you try to paint them. Each time you look up, the bit you were just painting is different. It could be a different shape or size or it could change from sunlit to shaded, or vice versa. It might even disappear completely, either through evaporation or being hidden behind another cloud.

To deal with the changes, a lot of commitment occurs in the very first brushstrokes. I laid down a quick outline of the major cloud mass then quickly blocked in some shadow areas, leaving the sunlit areas untouched. I threw the ocean in as a thin wash, just to hide the primed board, then painted the hazy area between the base of the clouds and the horizon. By now the clouds shapes had all changed dramatically. Sticking with my initial layout, I added the clear sky area, sculpting it around the clouds. Then I added the highlight area.

With the main areas laid in, I looked along the horizon for banks of cloud with similar shapes to those in my painting and used these as a guide for modelling my light and shadow masses.