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November 2010

November 2010 -- Storms



  • Behind the Art:
    African Watercolor, Part 1
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Marley Mcleay
  • Ask an Artist:
    Unraveling DPI
  • EMG News:
    News for November
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Having a Hobby


  • Clouds


  • Fiction: Colors of the Elements

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  • Clouds
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Clouds, from perfectly puffy white bits of fluff in the sky where you see puppy dogs and dragons, to dangerous dark and stormy, bringing life-sustaining rain. For all their spectacle, clouds are made up simply of evaporated water vapor in the midst of condensing back into water, sometimes even ice crystals suspended on the winds.

    What is in the name?

    A British scientist, Luke Howard, started the system of using Latin words to describe cloud characteristics in 1803. Cirrus means "lock of hair", cumulus means "heap", stratus means " layer", and precipitating clouds have a form of the word nimbus, meaning "rain", in their names.

    Clouds in the highest parts of the atmosphere have the prefix "cirro," and middle clouds have "alto," while low clouds have no prefix. For example, a cumulus cloud high in the atmosphere would be named a cirrocumulus, and a cumulonimbus is a thunderstorm.

    There are many more definitions to break the clouds into smaller subgroups, but I will not go into those here.

    Different Cloud Types

    High Altitude Clouds: 18,000 and above

    Cirrus: The long, stringy versions of this cloud are called "mare's tails" (cirrus unicus), and can often mark the approach of a warm front and storms. Since they are so high in the atmosphere, these clouds are composed of ice crystals.

    Cirrocumulus: The wave look of these clouds are caused by turbulent winds, and remind some of the scales of a fish, thus the term "mackerel sky".

    Cirrostratus: Either these clouds form a light hazy sheet across the sky, turning it from blue to a milky white, or they can look web-like (cirrus fibratus). Because these clouds are composed of ice crystals, when the sun shines through the sheet it can produce a halo effect. In addition, the phenomena called "sundogs", a spot of rainbow color to either the left or right of the sun, appear in these clouds. At night, a halo can form around a bright moon. These halos lead to the (largely correct) weather legend "a ring around the moon means rain/snow is coming."

    Middle Level Clouds: between 6,000 and 18,000 feet

    Altocumulus: Larger than the cirrocumulus, the waves of the altocumulus can also be referred to as "mackerel sky." These usually indicate the approach of a storm, warm air rising and higher amounts of water in the air.

    Altostratus: Since they are lower, these are composed of water droplets; when the sun shining through has a hazy look rather than a halo, it is called a "watery sun". Another indicator of rain or snow on the way, these clouds vary in thickness, and are generally smooth and grey.

    Low Altitude Clouds: below 6,000 feet

    Stratocumulus: These look like cumulus clouds except they tend to clump together more, and be gray in color. They can be the remnants left after a storm. These clouds are prime realty for the rays of sunlight called crepuscular rays; these are the sunbeams that shine through the gaps in the clouds, so beloved by landscape artists looking for spectacular sky effects in their works.

    Stratus: Flat clouds, rather like blankets, these are generally too shallow to produce much precipitation themselves, and are usually the forerunner of bigger clouds.

    Nimbostratus: Low, grey clouds, always bringing precipitation, be it snow, sleet or rain. Often below these clouds, smaller clouds, called scuds, can be seen.

    Cumulus: These fair weather clouds prompt imaginative folks to find shapes in them. They are well defined and separated from each other as they scoot across the sky. The bases all form on the same level, so be certain to make the ones in the distance smaller when illustrating them.

    Cumulonimbus: Tallest of all (thunderstorms), these start out small and can swell to massive sizes. These are the impressive storms that when they reach the stratosphere the top spreads out into an anvil shape. These can go to the range of 50,000 feet. In the following four photos, you can see the development of a cumulonimbus.

    The following is the ominous looking underside of a cumulonimbus as it sweeps overhead.

    Fog: This is a cloud at ground level, usually it is composed of water droplets, but in places like Alaska, they can be composed of ice. There are three different types: valley fog, cool air from the mountains sliding down into the valley and condensing the water vapor there, causing the valley to look like a lake of clouds; radiation fog, created when nighttime air cools the moisture in the air enough to condense it; and advection fog, which happens when moist air is blown over cool ground.

    Illustration: The Cumulonimbus

    The thunderstorm is one of the most impressive things in nature; the power and danger that these storms can pack make their beauty all the more awesome. In the following illustration, I use the cumulonimbus as an example for my stippling technique. Stippling is the art of rendering a picture with dots.

    I like to do a pencil sketch of my cloud form first, this gives me guide and a sense of how the form will end up. I use a 01 Micron pen to define the sketch lines first by adding a single line of dots on top of my pencils. Then I just keep adding dots, and at times a bit of cross-hatching, until the cloud is as dark and defined as I would like. I use 01, 03, 05 and 08 pen sizes. I used the cross hatching in the darkest areas of the clouds, very short strokes so that they blend in with the dots more.

    In the following three illustrations, I have used watercolor to float out simple cloud formations. My technique is to dampen the paper and dab the paint in rather random patterns across the paper. I add water when I think that the color is too concentrated, but I also like to have some sharp edges. Remember to leave white spaces on the paper, to depict either thicker clouds or bright sunshine. The blues that I am using are pthalo and indanthrene. For the third picture, I used indanthrene blue to make a mountain, while leaving the white areas to depict fog.

    Keep in mind that the sky is lighter at the horizon and darker as you look up, exceptions would be when there are thunderstorms. Clouds that are mostly ice have blurred edges; clouds consisting of water have sharper edges, as you can see with cumulonimbus clouds as they grow.

    I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the wonderful world of clouds. There are many more techniques for depicting clouds in all their glory, and it is worth looking into further. Like a hint of spice, clouds can add that perfect touch to your pictures.

    Acknowledgement: A big thank you to my husband, Alexander D. Mitchell IV, for the use of his two photos, and his editing skills.


    Sonny Ngo, digitally painting clouds

    ShadowUmbre’s digital cloud tutorial

    Photoshop Lightning


    The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather David M. Ludlum
    The American Weather Book, by David M. Ludlum
    Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather, by Eric Sloane
    Eric Sloane's Weather book

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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