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Stormy Sky
Watercolor Sketching Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
I don’t know about you, but I always see the most beautiful skies when I’m in the car or in a big hurry somewhere. This awesome sky was a looming summer storm while I was walking at the park. Since it was not a good location to play with lighting, I snapped a photo to paint later. Painting skies is a wonderful warm up when you don’t have much time to paint or haven’t painted in awhile. Drawing is usually minimal, so it’s just a happy splash of colors. Skies are perfect practice for value patterns since clouds are really defined only by values. Skies can be very detailed or very minimal. Sometimes I’ll develop a sketch into a painting, sometimes not. Really, you can put whatever you want into painting skies.

If you really want to learn to paint, try painting a little sky sketch every day. Take 15 minutes, no longer. Painting outside, looking at the real sky is best, of course. But like I said, I always see dramatic skies when I can’t paint them so I keep a collection of skies to paint near at hand!
Stormy Sky Watercolor Painting tutorial

Sketching Tutorial Level


Skill Building


Art Supplies

6" x 8"
Strathmore Visual Journal

Blick Art Full Bellied Round, no.12


(M. Graham transparent watercolors)

Pthalo Blue
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Cerulean Blue
Cobalt Teal
Burnt Sienna

Painting Demonstration 1

Stormy Sky Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

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Painting Demonstration 2

Stormy Sky Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

Leave white paper for the clouds to start. Keep the color range simple. I started with Ultramarine blue, Cobalt teal, and Cobalt blue. Just plan the big shapes to start with, don’t get into details or texture. You’re just blocking in shapes.

Make certain you know where your light is coming from. Is it from the sun? Reflections on the clouds from city lights? Diffused or harsh?

Painting Demonstration 3

Stormy Sky Painting Tutorial 3

The dark trees and shadows at the base really anchor the painting. I added Burnt Sienna and Pthalo Blue in this wash.

Burnt sienna is a tricky color to use. Great grainy texture, but it can turn to mud. Painting skies is where you learn to handle these tricky colors with ease.

Storm Coming Sky PaintingLast comes the bit of detailed trees at the base. Fade the trees in and out of the sky. The trees are there to give scale to the painting. They’re not even a tiny bit important in the painting. Too much detail in the trees would be distracting.

I want lost and found edges in the clouds too, but not fussy detail. These are big dramatic clouds. Leave the area of greatest contrast to your center of interest only. Some drybrush for texture.

So go outside and start painting skies!

Artist's Tips

Use a combination of wet into wet wash and dry brush to give clouds volume.
Stormy Sky Watercolor Painting tutorial

Final Watercolor Sketch!

Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

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