Stormy Weather: On Clouds and Painting

It’s easy to admire a perfectly cloudless day on a mountain summit. It means we rarely consider our fears about coldness, damp, or the possibility of getting lost. In summer daylight runs long. There’s a swimming hole down the trail once we’re back in the hot, humid air of the trees. Perhaps there’s a cold beer at day’s end. We love these days because they are uncomplicated. Climbing the mountain was made less strenuous by the absence of clouds.

Though I love this type of day, especially when traversing a long, exposed range of mountains; in my paintings I gravitate toward the weather just before or after the clouds close in, obliterating a once pristine vision of the valley below and the path ahead. When hiking under these conditions I become hyper-aware of my surroundings. Are those clouds moving my way? Do they look like they might coalesce into a storm? I am constantly trying to hear what they are saying.

I rarely eliminate clouds from my art for the same reason. They become part of the narrative. They speak to what might happen or what has just passed. The undercast settled there in the valley overnight while we slept. Did the temperature drop suddenly? Did a front move through? Now the wind is picking up and waves of tattered clouds are cresting the ridge. With bright sun overhead, we wait to see if it will ‘burn off’ by the time we’re on the trail.

At times my clouds hold a little danger. They seem foreboding and unsettled. I see this as drama, but also the reality of the land; forces beyond our control. Other times the clouds depict the joy of a broken up shower or storm. We’re in luck! They are shot through with light in air now clear of humidity. All of their malice is gone and we relax again, knowing we can have a campfire tonight and sleep without thoughts of leaky tents.


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