Sketching Clouds in Charcoal: Getting Started

In this series we will be drawing clouds in charcoal, using a loose, sketchy approach.

You can use any reference of a cloud (or better yet, work from life!) or you can use the same one as me – it’s available at this link:

This first session will be focused on getting the basic shapes and tones of the cloud down on the paper.

You can use pretty much any materials that you have to hand. I’m just using paper, willow charcoal, an old paintbrush and a kneadable eraser.


  • Begin by quickly sketching in the basic shape of the most prominent cloud.
  • You can use light and loose lines. Don’t worry if you notice something is wrong, just correct it and keep going.
  • Once the largest cloud is in place, you can add some of the smaller forms as well (in relation to the main cloud).
  • Once the basic shapes have been placed, start roughly toning in the darkest areas.
  • You can do this with the charcoal on its side to make the process quicker.
  • At this stage you can also start brushing the patchy tones to smooth them out (this will also lighten things a bit).
  • Keep following this process, until the cloud forms start to come together.
  • If there is a part of the subject that is very dark (like the land in my piece) then make sure to go as dark as possible with the charcoal. This will make the most of the value range, and help to create a luminous effect.
  • Try to avoid going dark in the lightest areas (where the cloud is illuminated) as this may be hard to erase later.