Friday, January 8, 2016

"I've Looked At Clouds That Way"

I was inspired to write this post about clouds after reading the article about Luke Howard on Hyperallergic today called, "How the Naming of Clouds Changed the Skies of Art".

It caused me to reflect on some of my experiences and efforts to capture clouds like the ones in this painting "Killbear Morning Light".

"Killbear Morning Light"
2014 plein air acrylic
by Cindi Moynahan-Foreman 
My quick value sketches
Thankfully I had started early that September morning doing some quick composition/value sketches in my art journal.

By the time that I was finally set up with my paint and easel, the sky had completely changed! The sky was lovely later in the day, but not as lovely as when I had first arrived in that early morning light, so I completed the painting using the sky and clouds from my earlier composition/value sketch.

In just a matter of hours, the sky changed many times

"Clouds are fascinating to paint 
because they are the only element in a landscape 
that possesses free movement." 
(John F. Carlson 1875-1947)

Thanks to amateur meteorologist Luke Howard, we have had a naming system for clouds since 1802. 
(Link to Luke Howard's 77-page book published in 1865, "Essay on the Modifications of Clouds")

 Blue plaque at Luke Howard’s former home
in Tottenham, London
(photo by Acabashi/Wikimedia)
Luke Howard named clouds using three Latin terms: cirrus (“a curl of hair”); cumulus (“a heap”); and stratus (“layer”). (He would have never seen a "Hole-punch cloud" in the 1800s!)

Types of Clouds and How to Paint Them

Luke Howard also inspired Percey Bysshe Shelley's iconic 1820 poem "The Cloud" and my favourite four lines are found in the last stanza:

My acrylic sketch "Rain Cloud" 
What About Before 1802?

This article really got me thinking about a lot of things. I wondered about clouds before 1802. Before clouds had proper scientific latin names and that's when things got really interesting for me.

I found a lecture delivered before the Philosophical Institute of Edinburgh, December 6, 1887, by the Hon. Ralph Abercromby. I learned about "Cloud-land in folklore" and other names for clouds like "mares-tails",


or "Thor's Chariot", or "Udders of the Cows of Indra" (foretelling rain or "dropping richness on the earth"!).

 Fig. 5.—The Udders of the Cows of Indra Festooned Clouds.

All of this seemed like really wonderful material for some future art journal sketches/illustrations about clouds and cloud folklore.

I also realized that, since winter arrived, I have not been paying a lot of attention to the clouds and I plan to make more of an effort for the rest of the winter to "Look up!"

"I've Looked At Clouds That Way" 

Because I borrowed the title "I've Looked At Clouds That Way" for this blog post from the famous song "Both Sides Now" by the amazing Joni Mitchell , I thought it apropos to close with it. Enjoy!

Both Sides, Now  
by Joni Mitchell  
Rows and flows of angel hair 
And ice cream castles in the air 
And feather canyons everywhere 
I've looked at clouds that way  

But now they only block the sun 
They rain and snow on everyone 
So many things I would have done 
But clouds got in my way  

I've looked at clouds from both sides now 
From up and down, and still somehow 
It's cloud illusions I recall 
I really don't know clouds at all  

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels 
The dizzy dancing way you feel 
As every fairy tale comes real
 I've looked at love that way  

But now it's just another show 
You leave 'em laughing when you go 
And if you care, don't let them know 
Don't give yourself away 

I've looked at love from both sides now 
From give and take, and still somehow 
It's love's illusions I recall 
I really don't know love at all  

Tears and fears and feeling proud 
To say "I love you" right out loud 
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds 
I've looked at life that way  

But now old friends are acting strange 
They shake their heads, they say I've changed 
Well something's lost, but something's gained 
In living every day  

I've looked at life from both sides now  
From win and lose and still somehow  
It's life's illusions I recall 
I really don't know life at all  

I've looked at life from both sides now  
From up and down and still somehow 
It's life's illusions I recall 
I really don't know life at all  

© 1967 Gandalf Publishing Co

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