Aim of the exercise: to draw comprehensive tonal studies of cloud formations in charcoal, oil pastel and conte with the aid of a putty rubber. These were to be small sketches at different times of day to try and capture different weather patterns, drawing quickly and trying to show volume and movement.
What I experienced:
I enjoyed this exercise very much but certainly found it very challenging. I had never realised until I tried to draw them just how fast clouds move and change shape and character. Admittedly it has been pretty windy during the time I have been doing this exercise and I am sure that probably has not helped for speed with which they changed, but even so it really has been staggering the amount of change that happens in such a short space of time.
On the 22/07/13 I used charcoal to make my first attempts ( unless otherwise stated all drawings A5 sketchbook 2) and used a stick on its side to cover the paper, giving this a rub over to give me a tone on the paper. I spent a while watching the clouds before using a putty rubber to lift some of the charcoal and very quickly realised that I was not going to be able to draw an exact copy of a cloud. Every time I looked down and then up again, the shape had changed. A good visual memory is not one of my strong points so this clearly was going to be a challenge. The clouds that I started with were quite high and did not appear to have much visible volume. I fear that they had even less by the time I finished with them but I was pleased to have made a start (figure 1, top drawing) and using the putty rubber to lift the charcoal enabled me to draw the shapes and worked quite well. It was amazing how much variation in the types of clouds could be seen by just changing position slightly. Doing this for the second sketch gave me some clouds that I tried to show movement and flow with (figure 1, bottom drawing). I found an instruction by by Robert Kaupelis, in Experimental Drawing, p.77, helpful “To draw clouds, what you must do is study the general characteristics of the cloud you are drawing and attempt to incorporate these general qualities, rather than a specific cloud, into an exciting drawing.” I doubted I was going to be able to do the exciting drawing bit, but the studying general characteristics made a lot of sense.
On the 24/07/13 I had another attempt with charcoal using the same method (figure 2). These clouds had more volume which I found quite difficult to show. I then had another attempt, this time using the whole page (figure 3), with the same method. I still was struggling to show volume and not managing to show recession very well either. I appeared to be having a little more success at capturing overall shape.
On the 25/07/13 I tried taking some Conte hard pastels out with me and some pastel paper in blue and grey. With my first A5 sketch (figure 4) I kept the pastels moving constantly, trying to capture volume, movement and recession. I wasn’t tremendously successful but I thoroughly enjoyed giving it a go.
With the second attempt (figure 5) I changed my position and tried to draw the bank of cloud on the horizon. Even this, as big as it was, changed a surprising amount while trying to draw it. I got very lost with the tones in this one and being able to show what was in front and what was behind.
On the 26/07/13 I tried drawing some early morning clouds while looking out of the upstairs window, this time using charcoal pencils. I found it difficult to show recession with the parallel lines of cloud (top drawing figure 6) and a lot of that is because I have drawn the intervals similar sizes rather than making them smaller as they recede. The gaps in the clouds (bottom drawing figure 6, and drawing figure 7) proved to change extremely fast. I was trying to capture the nebulous nature of the cloud surrounding the lighter areas. I didn’t do very well with tonal variation in these drawings but I thoroughly enjoyed attempting them. The charcoal pencils appeared to give a darker and more solid effect than charcoal sticks.
After work I took the Conte hard pastels out again and the blue and grey pastel paper and had another couple of attempts. In the first drawing (figure 8) the clouds were moving and changing so fast and I got somewhat lost with trying to draw them. I was trying so hard to draw the clouds that I forgot to look carefully enough and note the direction that the gaps between the cloud ran and mine have become rather all over the place.
I turned to change position and a huge bank of cloud was on the horizon so I attempted that next (figure 9) and was surprised at how much even that changed during the drawing. I seem to have made it look more like a wave than a cloud but it was fun to try. The hard pastels appeared to work well and appeared to be a medium well suited to portraying clouds.
On 28/07/13 I tried working from a photograph (figure 10) that I had taken on the way to work. I used charcoal pencils in light, medium and dark. I wanted to see if I could manage to capture volume any better from a still image. I actually still found it very difficult to do. I tried smudging the charcoal for the sky and tried to be braver with my darks but the clouds are still lacking volume.
So, still finding clouds decidely tricky I looked at Drawing Scenery: landscapes and seascapes by Jack Hamm and found the section on clouds very interesting and useful. I tried to study the kinds of marks and shading techniques used for various types of cloud. The section on clouds in The Fundamentals of Drawing Landscapes by Barrington Barber was also very helpful and reading this led me to search on the internet to see if I could find any of Constable’s drawings of clouds. There were a lot of oil sketches of clouds but I wanted if possible graphite drawings. Searching for drawings and sketches finally led me to the Victoria and Albert Museum where they had photographs of a sketchbook of Constable’s. I attempted to study and copy some of the marks that Constable had used when sketching clouds (figures 11 and 12) and also tried to understand the marks that Alexander Cozens had used in A New Method of Landscape (figure 13).
Armed with the knowledge gained from looking at those I tried again with clouds on 29/07/13, this time using Derwent sketching pencils in HB, 2B and 4B. I attempted to draw the various clouds that I could see with rapid hatching as Constable had done. I was very very clumsy at it, and have not done well at showing volume, but it did really help me to draw rapidly while noting as best as I could how the light and shade created volume. I tried to be bolder with my tones as well. (Figures 14 and 15).
After attempting the pencil drawings I changed position again and tried an A4 drawing using oil pastel on grey pastel paper (figure 16).
I really enjoyed trying this drawing and the oil pastels seemed well suited to portraying clouds. Smudging them gave some nice nebulous effects. I did badly with showing recession and the clouds still look quite flat but it was good to try.
On 30/07/13 I tried an oil pastel from a photograph that I had taken yesterday. I had already tried to sketch this yesterday from life and I thought it would be interesting to see how I got on from a photograph. I enjoyed attempting this and I think that overall I have achieved a little more volume.
This will be a exercise that will be somewhat ongoing. I aim to do more cloud studies, as I continue with the rest of the course, and will add them in here as I go.
Things I feel went well: I am pleased that I just went for it with these drawings. I went on the fact that good or bad the only way to learn was to do and carried on even when I felt I was making a right mess of it. I found that I enjoyed the freedom of attempting the drawing while not being hung up on the outcome. I am pleased that I experimented with several media. I think that the colour drawings in pastel and oil pastel overall worked quite well and both media encouraged me to be quite free and loose with the drawings.
Things I feel did not go well: I struggled to show volume with the clouds and to use tone effectively.
What would I like to do following this exercise: I would like to carry on with more cloud studies, as and when I can, including sunset and sunrise and rain clouds. I think that this will not only give me good practice and build up a good resource of clouds, it will also help to increase my visual memory, continue to help me to attempt a drawing even if I think that I will do it badly, and will help to develop my skills in the media I have used here. I would like to be able to take the attitude ‘just get on and try it, come what may’ with me into future exercises.
Barber, Barrington The Fundamentals of Drawing Landscapes, 2002, this edition 2012, Arcturus Publishing Limited, London
Cozens, Alexander A New Method of Landscape 1785, this edition 1977, Paddington Press Ltd, UK
Hamm, Jack Drawing Scenery: landscapes and seascapes 1972, The Berkley Publishing Group, New York
Kaupelis, Robert Experimental Drawing 1980 Watson-Guptill, USA
Wilkinson, Gerald Turner Sketches 1789-1820, 1977, Barrie and Jenkins Ltd, London