Indian Summer Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum



Paint Leaf Clump Values

Following is an overly simplified representation of how the lights and shades form around clumps of leaves.  The same types of value clumpings can be seen in fluffy clouds and in cauliflower.  Especially in watercolor, which is known for its poetic simplicity, drawing a tree leaf-by-leaf is not advised.  It is better to suggest the clumps of leaves by depicting their values.  The original of this drawing exercise can be found:

How to draw an oak tree step by step

A typical oak tree is topped by an arching, umbrella, like system of many smaller umbrella clumps.  Each umbrella is shaded separately; and is lighter on the top and darkest on the bottom.  The clumps often touch and even overlap each other; but think of the clumps as individual and make alterations as necessary.

How to draw an oak tree step 2

How to draw an oak tree step 3

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How to Paint A Clump of Distant Trees

Painted by Chris Berdoll


Mix 2 washes of Ultramarine Blue and Azo Yellow

1alight One wash is very diluted and has more yellow

1bdarks One has more blue and is less diluted


After you pick up paint lightly dab excess on paper towel


The lights are applied with an underhand hold on the brush and with the brush held sideways



Lightly roll the light mixture over the tops of the upper segments of trees.


You have created a broken wash — a cauliflower effect of hit or miss color.  Some people use a sponge to get this effect.

4a Use the tip of the brush to dab a touch of dark


To shade, line the lower parts of the light clump with dark.  Actually touch the bottom of the light wash with the dark; but do not allow the dark paint to overtake the top of the light mixture.



You should be able to distinguish light spots from dark spots

5a With the side of the brush, add more light


In some areas, allow the wash to lightly touch the previous clump.  Occasionally drag a wish of the darker overflow into the light.


With the tip of the brush, dab darks into this light clump



With the side of the brush, add more light


With the tip of the brush, add darks


9a  9b

With the side of the brush, paint the light tops of the next layer of trees.

10a  10b

With the tip of the brush, shade the bottom of that clump


With the side of the brush, paint the lights of the neighboring clump.

12a  12b

13a  14a


16a Fewer trees are at the top of the heap

17a  17b

As you paint the grove of trees, note that as the elevation of the tees lowers, vegetation is more dense and grows more together.  The paint will begin to merge a bit.

19a Darken the base even more


He added a bit of vegetation to the upper left area.  Keep in mind that the growth is rather triangular–more and wider at the base; less and narrower at the top.

Allow the washes of this tree mass to dry before adding the twigs.

21 Mix a wash of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna

22  22b

Look for openings or clearings toward the top of the masses; and with a Rigger brush, draw simple twigs.


He allowed this to dry.

He felt that the clump in the lower right corner looked like a blob that needed to be converted into a shrub.  With clear water on his rigger brush, he lifted or erased lines of paint to create the feel of a shrub.  He noted that a shrub’s branches seem to all come from a common point and become more like groups of V’s than groups of Y’s [as in the twigs].

31d  32a


He added a few final twigs.

He showed other examples of this exercise that he had painted and commented that the results will be different every time.



Last Red Zinnia – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum – October 11, 2014

Last Red Zinnia by Jacki Kellum


  • Watercolor
  • Painted October 11, 2014

It is rainy and chilly today. There are still a few, brave annuals in my garden–clinging to memories of summer; but they are weak and beginning to retreat. I felt like painting one of those last, red zinnias.

Before I began to paint, I knew that I wanted to communicate that oranges and browns are beginning to creep into my garden.  Because I wanted some pearly grays and browns, I  allowed a bit of mingling among complements.  I used the water to control the amount of color–to create tints–or perlish hues.

I used DaVinci Watercolor Paint — the following colors:

  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue

Following are some red zinnia paintings that I like from what I found on the internet:


How to Paint Sky With Clouds Video




You will need a palette with mixing wells and washes of:

  • Cerulean Blue
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Naples Yellow

2cerbluealiz Washes should be diluted about this much

2cerbluealizb Violet occurs where the two washes mix

Mix a wash of violet in one of the wells.

3naplesyellow Naples Yellow added

Remember that red, yellow, & blue are the primary colors and when 3 primaries mix, you get gray and/or borwn

4 Mix a wash of gray [all 3 colors] in one of the wells



1. Paint a Cerulean wash over and around the tops of the clouds.


2. Dab a violet wash [Alizarin Crimson + Cerulean Blue diluted]


3.  Dab a bit of Cerulean wash next tothe purple


4.  Dab some naples yellow at the tops of some of the cloud formations


5. Soften the edges


5. Add a very diluted, softened violet wash beneath the cloud formations


6.  Add a bit of diluted blue wash


7.  Dab Grays on the bottoms of the clouds


4-9c  Soften the edges

4-9d Extend the grays





Streak a less diluted gray across the sky


Finished Sky with Clouds Painted by Patrick Ley-Greaves

How to Paint A Graded Wash Sky

How to Paint Clouds Main Picture

How To Paint Clouds – Sumary of Steps

This is a basic sky, going from a fairly strong blue at the top to a much paler, creamy color at the horizon. Just three colors are required.

Ultramarine Blue and Yellow Ochre (or Raw Sienna) for the sky itself and a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Light Red for the cloud shadows.

  1. Place watercolor paper on a painting board
  2. Lift the outer edge an inch or two [support it there on a book]
  3. Sketch in the horizon line [optional]–Before painting, it is important to at least know where your horizon will be
  4. Paint the entire page with clear water
  5. Turn the board upside down
  6. Mix a well of light yellow ochre wash – diluted
  7. From the bottom of the page toward the horizon line and pulling it upward, paint a graded wash of yellow ochre.  Remember that a graded wash gets lighter as it moves downward. Stop about one third of the way up from the horizon line.
  8. Turn the board back around.
  9. Mix a well of ultramarine blue wash–fairly strong. Remember that the colors dry at least 50% lighter than they appear at first.
  10. Paint a graded wash of ultramarine blue down from the top toward the horizon. Remember that a graded wash gets lighter as it moves downward.  At the point where the yellow ochre meets the blue, the washes should merge together.  Because they are fairly dilluted, the colors [blue + yellow] will not appear to turn green.

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 2

If there are not clouds in the sky, you may stop at this point

If you want to add clouds, do the following: 

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 3

Clean your brush and squeeze the excess water out into a paper towel.  [Erase] the paint from the cloud area by painting areas you want to be white with a clean brush.   You may want to clean the brush a few times; but do not overdo this.

You may stop at this point or you can add shadows to the clouds:

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 4

Mix a fairly strong wash of ultramarine blue + light red.  The orange in the light rid and ultramarine blue are complements and mixed, they create a gray.

Using some of your shadow color, dab it on the base and to one side of the clouds you’ve created, remembering the sun would be shining on the opposite side of them.

In this ‘How to Paint Clouds’ demo, I’ve imagined the sun coming from the top left.

Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complements and when mixed, they create grays and/or browns.

Blue and orange are opposite each other on the color wheel and are therefore complements.


How To Paint Clouds – Before You Start… Details of the step by step procedure

Reposted from:

The most common early faults are usually, having too much water or too little paint in your mix.

Watercolor paint dries about 50% lighter than when you first slosh it on the paper. If your sky looks the right strength at first when it’s wet, it’s going to be too weak and pale when dry.

This means those clouds you’re trying to create won’t stand out as clearly as you’d wish.

The alternative fault is putting almost pure pigment on the paper so your sky is such a vibrant blue that it looks like a midnight background on a Christmas card.

The trick of course, in learning how to paint clouds, is to get the sky colors somewhere in between these two extremes.

Timing is also important. Whilst the paper is still damp with paint, you have a chance of adjusting your sky, such as adding other cloud colors or taking paint out to lighten different areas.

However, once it starts to dry, putting on extra paint or water or lifting out paint to attempt to correct what you think is a slight flaw, will almost certainly make a bigger mess of what you set out to eradicate.

Instead let it dry and see what happens…

The best advice is to spend no more than two or three minutes at most on your complete sky and somewhat less on the actual cloud formations.

To succeed, this requires three things.

1. Getting all your colors prepared to the right strength beforehand. Mixmore than you think you need – you don’t have time to mix extra paint in the middle of painting your clouds and sky.

2. Having a rough idea in your mind of where you want your clouds and blue areas etc. to go in the sky.

You don’t have to be too precise – the watercolor paints won’t let you – but it helps enormously in learning how to paint clouds that look fresh and float naturally, rather than pieces of cotton wool dangling in regular patterns across your paper…

3. Stopping when it’s finished. Logical yes, but harder than you think because a wet sky can often look a mess when first painted and the temptation is to fiddle.

If you practice a few skies first and let them dry without trying to establish a ‘perfect’ cloud formation, see what happens to the way the colors blend. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised more often than you’re disapppointed…

Right, let’s get going!

How To Paint Clouds – Stage One

This is a basic sky, going from a fairly strong blue at the top to a much paler, creamy color at the horizon. Just three colors are required.

Ultramarine Blue and Yellow Ochre (or Raw Sienna) for the sky itself and a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Light Red for the cloud shadows.

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 1

Use a large round watercolor brush (at least a No.10 or 12) or a 1″ flat brush, or one of a similar paint-holding capacity.

Before you start, prop up the top of your board with your watercolor paper on it. A book or piece of wood about 1″- 2″ thick is fine for this.

First, paint the whole sky area with clean water. Wet it but don’t flood it. Whilst it’s damp, put a very pale wash of the yellow ochre just above the horizon and about a third of the way up the sky. Look at the photo. I used a flash for some of the photos so you can see the reflection of the damp paper.

How To Paint Clouds – Stage Two

Now take a fairly strong mix of Ultramarine (remember, stronger than you think at this stage) and run your brush once across the top of the sky, leaving a nice broad band of blue.

Dip your brush into water, then into your blue paint and run a second band of blue underneath, just picking up the bottom of this first band.

Because you’ve dipped your brush in water then the paint, the second band will be slightly paler. Also it’ll start to run down the paper evenly due to the fact that it’s at a slight angle.

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 2

Repeat this until you reach the area of yellow ochre and let the two areas run together.

Because the blue and yellow colors are so pale when they meet, you’ll find they don’t turn green as you might expect. Instead, they should form that lovely light glow you get on the horizon.

You’ll probably find that a bead of water accumulates at the bottom of the sky area.

Carefuly dab this away with a paper towel, or better still, squeeze out any excess water on your brush and run it along the bottom of the bead.

You’ll find it sucks it up like a sponge.

How To Paint Clouds – Stage Three

If you wan’t a cloudless, sunny sky, you can leave it at this stage.

However, this is a ‘how to paint clouds’ tutorial so I’ll assume you want to do just that. The simplest way to achieve it is to again squeeze out the excess water from your brush and then ‘roll’ the side of the brush randomly across the blue part of your sky.

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 3

You’ll find the damp brush lifts out blue pigment in a very realistic impression of clouds.

The photo above shows you how to do this. Here, I’ve used a 1″ flat brush. This should take only a few seconds or you’ll overdo it. Don’t worry about raggedy, slightly hard edges at this point in time. These will soften on the still damp paper. If you want, roll the brush a bit then clean it on a paper towel before you create a few more clouds.

This is so you don’t start putting blue paint back into the paper that you’ve just lifted out. You can now leave the sky as it is with fluffy white clouds, or you can add one more stage.

Oh by the way, have you noticed that learning how to paint clouds in watercolor is actually learning how to take paint off the paper rather than putting it on ?

How To Paint Clouds – Stage Four

If you want to add cloud shadows, now is the time. However, you need that strong light red/ultramarine mix I mentioned earlier for a nice grey shadow color.

How to Paint Clouds  Stage 4

The reason it has to be the strongest mix is that you’ve already got damp paint on your paper for the rest of the sky.

If you were to put a very watery shadow color on top, the water floods the paper and pushes the paint pigment already there to one side and produces the dreaded ‘cauliflower’ effect. Try it on some scrap paper and see what I mean.

Using some of your shadow color, dab it on the base and to one side of the clouds you’ve created, remembering the sun would be shining on the opposite side of them.

In this ‘How to Paint Clouds’ demo, I’ve imagined the sun coming from the top left. Again, be restrained with your shadow color but do make sure you put it on before the paper starts to dry.

As an aside, note from the close-up photo below how the paint ‘granulates’ into the hollows of the watercolor paper, producing a lovely added texture to your clouds and sky.

Take some photos of different skies and cloud formations and use them as a reference to provide ideas.

Also, try different combinations of blue, red, yellow and brown for the shadow colors – see which ones work for you and which don’t.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following this ‘how to paint clouds’ tutorial.

With practice you’ll find that you will soon be producing some very believable cloudy skies – the perfect complement to the rest of your painting, or lovely subjects in their own right.