Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Perfect Passage: Clouds

Nikolai Yaroshenko

Greg Manchess

Besides figures, helmets, and snow, I love to paint clouds.

The structure of clouds is perfect for using all sorts of brushwork to capture it. There’s a marvelous freedom to the abstract shapes and forms that will still read as clouds if given the right context by the painter.

Here are just a few of the incredible cloud paintings I look at for inspiration.

The value range across the sky of this Maynard Dixon painting is very short, and yet the depth achieved is remarkable. The straight line of blue grey cloud that cuts in front of the bank behind it fascinates me for its perfect value and flatness, and the way it blends into the shapes around it.

This small painting by Beatty is dramatic, without being heavily detailed, using very light values in the sky. That touch of sunlight on the beach to the right, though, is the holding stroke that lets us know how bright the sunlight is that’s bleeding onto that warm forest color.

William Kuala’s landscape with clouds is remarkable for how accurately he captured the wide range of values in the sky. The spot that is hard to control, but masterful, is the section of close-valued clouds just above the bright hill in the center. So subtle, holding those soft values together. That’s a tough mix of paint to get right.

This small piece by Edgar Payne is killer because the shape of the cloud depicts such depth so simply. That’s obvious, but the touches of dark in the two riders isn’t. Not only do they give us scale, but focus. Love the shadows under the hats and horse.

The painting at the top, a landscape by Nikolai Yaroshenko, is divine. Such mood and beauty, I wonder how he worked on it and how often he had to run across his studio to study it. That passage of light grey clouds in front of the brighter clouds in upper left, the slight warmth of color and the light penetrating the webbing of cloud strands, holds the piece together.


  1. Great post Greg. Love these paintings and insight.

  2. Great to hear, Britt. There are loads of amazing cloud paintings. I hope to show more sometime.
    It's astonishing how much can be learned from studying and painting clouds and cloudscapes...

  3. I've always loved that Yaroshenko piece. He is sort of pulling back the curtain to reveal the mountain. It is both mysterious and revealing at the same time.

    Clouds, smoke, mist, I have always thought are so great for adding visual interest into a scene; it can be both bold and subtle, directing the eye, creating movement in something that is otherwise static. The list could go on and on.

    An individual could paint clouds his entire life I think, and never grow bored. They are always fascinating, and inspiring!

    Nice post Greg!

  4. I have a large Acrylic cloud painting rolled up on my shelf... I struggled with the translucent depth of the light, the dark clouds, and in particular trying to portray a vast distance between clouds. My smaller studies gave a hint of what I was looking for but even then I was struggling. Time is very limited and other projects going on, but I want to get back to it. I plan to use the painting as it is now as an underpainting and gesso over it enough to retain the composition and basically start again.

    I have another one in watercolor that was done in the Autumn of '93. I love it, and it troubles me at the same time. When I walk outside I can see the same clouds and Autumn light... but the painting cloud composition has a jerk(not a person jerk) in it that doesn't allow my mind to be at peace with it. A lesson that even clouds in their gaseous state need good composition.

    In the end I find clouds and tree leaves to be similar challenges, it must be the volume, light and lack of defined shape which is all there but not there at the same time, along with knowing where to detail and where to leave it open and undefined... and probably over thinking is an issue.

    Will keep working it out...

    Thank you Greg,



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