My head is always in the clouds – literally! Elevation here in Santa Fe is 7200 feet. The vast skies and ever changing cloud formations inspire many of my paintings.

Here are three favorite techniques to get cloud effects using acrylic paint. Ocean waves are created the same way with some variations. These techniques will also work with oil paint – just substitute solvent for water when diluting the paint.

Hidden Rainbow, acrylic on panel, 26″ x 34″

Technique #1: Combining Glazing & Sanding

This is a great way to create white clouds in a blue sky as well as white wave caps in blue water.

Step 1. Start with fluid colors Phthalo Blue (green shade), Prussian Blue and Titanium White. Apply a combination of these three colors, mixed with a slow drying medium (I like Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid) onto your painting surface as an underpainting. Apply as a sky at the top, and as water at the bottom, or wherever you eventually want clouds or waves. For water, vary the value so the blue has both dark and middle value tones keeping it mostly dark. In other words, create a dark blue background which will show off the white waves added later. Let this first blue layer dry.

Step 2. When the first layer has dried, knife apply Acrylic Glazing Liquid over the area you want waves or clouds. While the medium is still wet, add Titanium White fluid paint onto your knife, and swipe the white into the medium in swirling actions. While still wet use the knife to scrape back some areas to reveal the blue underneath in places. Also while wet take a dry flat brush and lightly wipe the white paint into upward lines. Let this second layer dry for a day or more.

Step 3. Using waterproof sandpaper, spray the surface with water and sand off some of the dried white paint from the previous layer. Respray the sanded area with water and wipe off the excess sanded paint with paper towel.

Step 4. If too white repeat Step 2 using blue paint. Repeat any steps as needed for more blue water, or more white waves.

Blue Curve & Mountain, acrylic & gold leaf on panel, 16″ x 12″

Technique #2: Resist Washes on Glossy Surfaces

Step 1. Apply a base coat of overall blue for a sky, or a variety of dark blues for water.

Step 2. When dry, make your surface glossy by applying a coat of gloss medium over the painted surface. Let dry.

Step 3. Heavily dilute Titanium White paint with water to create a “wash” (60-70% water to any fluid paint color or 90% water for heavy or thick paints). Apply the wash over the glossy surface. Leave it alone to dry. This is the hard part – not playing with it. If you move the wash around too much, or don’t have enough water in your paint, this technique won’t work.

Step 4. When dry the white will puddle up into interesting patterns and shapes, allowing the blue underneath to show through. Repeat the steps using blue paint if needed.

Canyon Landscape, acrylic on panel, 20″ x 20″

Technique #3: Traditional Painting Techniques

Paint clouds and waves using good old classical painting techniques. The historic old master painters had been doing this years ago. Many contemporary painters, myself included, still use these techniques. Technique #2 described above occasionally produces happy accidents, but not always. Uncontrolled techniques such as that won’t always give the desired results.

Traditional painting techniques usually involve applying paint with a knife or brush, while adding mediums to make colors more transparent. By using transparent paint color in layers you can build up with optimal control to obtain the effects you want.

Here are some examples of paintings with clouds and waves, by other artists using classical painting techniques, usually resulting in images that are more detailed and realistic.

Below are two paintings by 19th Century French Master, Gustav Courbet.
This contemporary painting is from
cloudswithhouseAnother contemporary painting from

Traditional painting methods can take hours of mixing color and careful application. I like to use a combination of abstract techniques along with classical ones to add an intriguing contrast.

By the way video demonstrations of these techniques as well as many more, are included in my acrylic painting course. Click here for more about the course.