My head is always in the clouds – literally! The elevation where I live here in Santa Fe, New Mexico is 7200 feet. The vast skies and ever changing cloud formations inspire many of my paintings.
Three ways to paint waves & clouds
Here are my three favorite ways to create cloud painting effects using acrylic paint. I create ocean waves the same way as the clouds, but with some variations. These techniques will also work with oil paint – just substitute solvent for water when diluting the paint.
Blue Horizon, 20″ x 20″, acrylic on panel
Hidden Rainbow, 26″ x 34″, acrylic on panel
Technique #1: Combine Glazing with Sanding
This first technique is a great way to create white clouds in a blue sky as well as white wave caps in blue water. /em>
By the way, my DIY course The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting includes a video demonstration of this technique, along with lots more tips and details.
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 to use Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss) onto your painting surface to create an underpainting. Apply these three colors and medium, in a variety of ways using brushes and knives, and applied in different amounts. The blues will eventually be a base for your sky at the top, and as water at the bottom, or wherever you eventually want clouds or waves. For water, vary the values so the blue has both dark and middle value tones keeping it mostly dark. In other words, keep to a dark blue background overall with this underpainting, 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 your slow drying clear medium over the area you want to apply 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 motions. While still wet use the knife to scrape back some areas to reveal the blue underpainting showing through 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 dry painted 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.
This contemporary painting is from www.pixelcreation.fr
Another contemporary painting from www.conceptart.org
Video demonstrations of these techniques as well as many more, are included in my DIY acrylic painting course. The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting.
complete guide to acrylic painting
Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting
Find the magic to bring your visions to life on canvas. From your very first brushstroke to your ultimate masterpiece – this course has it all. Click to read more.