A Realistic Sky Drawing in 4 Steps With Photoshop

This guide will create a beautiful realistic sky drawing from a few sky textures. We are going to use three different types of cloud characteristics for painting the sky: wisp-like cirrus clouds, bunched up cumulus clouds, and fog-like stratus clouds.

Aerial environments are what makes a landscape drawing come alive. Since there are so many variations that you can do, the great thing about this guide is that you can play with free-form random patterns and still make it look like believable sky.

This is due to the natural textures that you can do using the smudge tool and then duplicating the textures in a way that caters to the pattern that you like. Moreover, you will use this skill of recycling textures in whatever you will draw in the future.

This should give you enough variety to play with as you create a fantasy atmosphere on your own. On top of that, we are going to use the most basic drawing tools so you can learn how to draw a sky without too much hassle.

A simple realistic sky drawing: suggesting a pattern

Using a single tone background, adding thin lines that mark rim light of individual clouds can be the quickest way to suggest a series of clouds in a pattern. First, block in a general gradient of what your pattern to be like.

Using a chalk shaped brush, begin on little details. Draw bumps of light to form cumulus clouds around the general light source. Sometimes, you can use the smudge brush at 100% pressure to guide the rim outline of your clouds.

realistic sky drawing step 1 from cgattic.ca

Duplicate the layer and resize it. lay with the transparency. You can also transform it by rotating or warping the layers to correspond with the pattern you are going for. Merge and smudge these layers into place.

To bring out more color contrast, do a global tuning using sharpening or brightness filters. Depending on where you put your light source, you can try global standard gradients or radial gradients to get a nice flow of values.

A simple realistic sky drawing: cumulus clouds

Sometimes, you may not want your sky to be too cluttered. The first part involves just blocking in random shapes in targeted areas and then smudging it across the canvas. As a result, you will get batches of individual clouds that look very dynamic.

To create even more variation, duplicate the layer multiple times and resizing it. Arrange these new layers into areas where you think the background layer clouds will link. The edges that were created from the layers can be lightly erased prior to merging.

realistic sky drawing step 2 from cgattic.ca

Once you have determined the position, you can merge the layers. From here, it's a simple repeat of the first step. That is, you will smudge out these newly created textures to form even more cloud variations. Again, the idea is to use current textures to create new ones.

You can use a few filters to help you out with bringing out a more dynamic sky. For example, duplicate the layer and then apply a lens flare. After that, change the layer to 'overlay' or 'soft light' to create color contrasts.

A simple realistic sky drawing: combining techniques

At this point, the process is the same. However, you feel as though it looks fairly dull as it seems all the clouds are exactly the same. We can try using a gradient background to get some more variations.

Morning glory clouds are excellent clouds to draw. First, draw a long streak on your gradient background and do long smudges to extend or blur it into place. Already, you should see more variation as these cloud divides the values from dark to light.

You can curve the clouds around on itself to bring in my dynamic motion. Color values can be easily adjusted using a dodge or burn tool and with a soft round head. Glaze in different values and start to paint little cumulus clouds near it.

realistic sky drawing step 3 from cgattic.ca

From here on, just duplicate and clone the various textures already inside your canvas to form complete realistic sky drawings. transforming stacked clouds will yield even more variations that you can play with. It all adds up.

Reflections of the sky in an environment is also something you can consider doing. How will clouds reflect off water? In these cases, duplicate the realistic sky drawing and then flip it. Adjust for transparency and size to make it reflect off a water background.

A complex realistic sky drawing: more sky textures

With all those nice cloud textures, use it to give your sky some sense of scale. Different elevations will yield different types of clouds. Generally speaking, the higher up you go, the more wispy and the less sparse the clouds become.

On land, fog can suggest atmosphere while other cumulus clouds occupy the middle atmosphere. As you draw the sky, consider positioning each cloud type so it corresponds to its proper location in the sky.

realistic sky drawing step 4 from cgattic.ca

In general, clouds that are far up in the sky are more wispy whereas clouds in the middle are more defined. As you get progressively closer to the ground, though, the clouds there will appear mostly as mist, in which you are suggesting it by diluting the color of the object the mist is covering.

If you need to add in objects, just remember that color does reflect off your object as well as the location of the light source. That means you have to make sure to sample colors from the sky and the light source to draw it onto your object as rim light.

Sharpening clouds can also add clarity and to separate it from existing clouds. The same can be done with blurring tools to blend clouds together.

All in all, the process is very simple: start with just blocking in specific forms, smudging it, duplicate or transform it, and then improving the color intensity. You can create an unlimited number of realistic sky drawings with it.