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Art Network: Nancy Silvia's 7 Tips for Painting Clouds

24 Aug 2020 1:56 PM | Karen Halbert (Administrator)

Last Light (pastel on paper, 9x12) by Nancy Silvia

Nancy is appearing in a current Artist Network article7 tips on Painting Clouds'

Big Virga (pastel on paper, 29×42) by Nancy Silvia

The New Mexico sky comes alive with clouds during the summer monsoon season — delicate cumuli swell into towering thunderheads dragging dark brooms of rain across the mesa tops. Toward sundown, the tattered vestiges of storms glow orange and red and purple. Santa Fe painter Nancy Silvia moved to Santa Fe with her husband, fellow artist Hiroshi Murata, in 2003, and finds nourishment for her art in this expansive, high desert sky. Here, Silvia shares her tips for painting clouds.

Winter Chill (pastel on paper, 11×11) by Nancy Silvia

1. Say no to potatoes.

“Clouds are water vapor. They should not look like mashed potatoes in the sky.”

After the Storm (pastel on paper, 16×27) by Nancy Silvia

2. Keep your head in the clouds.

“Study clouds when outdoors even if you are not painting (but not when you are driving). Analyze their shapes and structure.”

The Red Road (pastel on paper, 12×16) by Nancy Silvia

3. Work quickly en plein air.

“When outdoors, work rapidly when trying to capture clouds. When ‘touching up’ later in the studio, you can consult your reference photos.”

Taos Winter Light (pastel on paper, 20×36) by Nancy Silvia

4. Go bold and accurate.

“You can patiently render plants, rocks, and other landforms, but clouds are fleeting, so paint them with boldness and accuracy.”

Moonrise at Ghost Ranch (pastel on paper, 16×12) by Nancy Silvia

5. To emphasize or not?

“Because clouds and the sky are part of the composition and light effect in a landscape painting, give a lot of thought to how much emphasis to give them.”

Evening Energy (pastel on paper, 8×8) by Nancy Silvia

6. Study the light.

“Clouds have volume, so study how they react with the light source. Are they lit from below, from above, or from behind? Do they cast shadows on the ground. Do they form a group in space?”

Last Light (pastel on paper, 9×12) by Nancy Silvia

7. Capture the colors.

“There is a great range of color in the sky; cloud colors may be infinitely subtle at certain times of day, or vivid and dramatic, as during sunset.”

Despite her formal training, Nancy Silvia eschews hard-and-fast design rules, instead favoring intuition based on experience. To see more of Silvia’s paintings and learn more about her background and process, visit and keep your eyes peeled for the September/October 2020 issue of Pastel Journal. And if you’re a pastel artist, consider entering the Pastel 100 competition before the deadline, September 7, 2020! 

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