Combining Clouds and Art in the Classroom

Students explore how Western artists have represented clouds in landscape paintings while honing their cloud identification skills and making their own cloud paintings. Materials:
Windows to the Universe activity by Lisa Gardiner
Grade level:
Adaptable for grades 2-8
One to three class periods depending on class format and desired learning outcomes.
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students learn about cloud types and the characteristics that help identify each type.
  • Students learn about a variety of Western landscape artists and the ways that they used to represent clouds.
Lesson format:
Class presentation and discussion, online interactive, cloud identification, and cloud painting.

Standards Addressed:

National Science Education Standards:

National Standards for Arts Education:


Part A: Explore Clouds in Western Art

  1. Show the Clouds in Art Presentation or have students take a self-guided tour of the Clouds in Art online gallery at a computer lab.
  2. Make sure each pair of students has a cloud identification guide to reference during the slide presentation or while looking through the online cloud gallery. (See links above for printable versions.)
  3. For each slide in the presentation, ask students to comment on the following:
    • What do you see in the painting?
    • What does the weather look like?
    • What kinds of clouds are in the sky?
    • What colors did the artist use to paint these clouds?
    • What type of brushstrokes did the artist use?
  4. In a computer lab, have students work independently with the Clouds in Art interactive to reinforce the idea of identifying cloud types from landscape paintings. In this interactive, students compare clouds in paintings with clouds type photographs side-by-side with supporting text.
  • Note about presentation: You may choose to omit the cloud information from the bottom of each slide and guide conversation with students, allowing them to speculate and use their cloud identification guides more closely, and allowing the conversation to be more open-ended.

Part B: Cloud Identification and Painting

  1. Show the Cloud Type Photographs Presentation and discuss the different shapes, sizes, and textures of different types of clouds.
  2. Ask students what colors clouds can be. List the colors they brainstorm on the board. Encourage students to think about how the colors of clouds change depending on how much water the cloud contains and depending on how the sunlight falls on them.
  3. Head outside and allow students to explore the colors of the clouds in the sky by comparing clouds to paint samples. (Safety: Remind students to never look directly at the Sun.) Revisit the question of the colors of clouds. What colors did students find? Did students find what they expected?
  4. Explore cloud identification using the same cloud guides that students used during the Clouds in Art presentation or online Clouds in Art gallery tour. Note that cloud identification can be challenging. Many primary level teachers focus on recognition of cumulus, stratus, and cirrus cloud shapes in order to keep things simple while students initially learn about cloud types.
  5. Distribute art materials and allow students to paint the clouds they see in the sky. Remind students to look at the shape of the clouds, the colors of the clouds, and their approximate height in the sky.
  6. If possible, repeat this outdoor part of the activity on several days when the variety of clouds in the sky is different. Compare student cloud paintings from days with different weather. Discuss how students conveyed changes in weather through color and shape of the clouds that they drew.


Cloud in a bottle activity: To learn the science of how and why clouds form, try this simple activity with your students.

Art history research: Have students research other landscape paintings that feature clouds prominently and report to the class about the artist, the painting, and what cloud types they think are represented.


About Landscape Art

Before the 18th Century, landscape painting was rare in Western art . During the Renaissance (14th-16th Centuries) landscapes were included in paintings, but mainly just as a backdrop for mythological or religious art. In the 17th Century Italian artists were making fantasy landscape paintings.

Dutch artists made some of the first landscape paintings that depicted the natural world without fantasy and mythological or religious ties. By the 18th Century, natural landscape painting was becoming more popular and common in England, France, and Italy. In the 19th Century, metal tubes were invented that kept paints from drying and allowed artists to make paintings outdoors in the landscape rather than in a studio. This led to the Realism movement in which the landscape was depicted as accurately as possible. And it eventually led to the Impressionist movement in which artists sought to capture the subtleties of light and mood. A group of new American landscape painters also became well known in the 19th Century. Today landscape painting is very popular and very diverse. Landscapes are made in a variety of media and with a variety of artistic styles.

The works of art that are highlighted within the resources of this lesson (the Clouds in Art Interactive, Presentation, and Gallery) focus on 19th Century landscape painting from Europe and North America. Paintings were selected that feature clouds prominently and that represent a variety of cloud types. There are, of course, many other paintings (as well as other forms of art) that depict clouds. If time allows, you may choose to allow students, especially those in upper grades, to research other landscape paintings that feature clouds.

About Clouds and Cloud Identification

Clouds are made of tiny water droplets or ice crystals that are suspended in the atmosphere. Clouds form when pressure decreases and water vapor in the atmosphere condenses on little particles of dust called condensation nuclei.

There are a variety of different types of clouds. They are typically classified into groups based on their shape with three main groups: (1) puffy clouds with distinct edges, (2) uniform and flat clouds, and (3) wispy and thin clouds. They are also classified by their altitude in the atmosphere (low clouds, middle clouds, high clouds). When both of these criteria can be observed in paintings, the cloud can be identified. The shape of a cloud depends on how air moves around it. If air is moving laterally, the clouds becomes elongate in shape, forming clouds like altostratus and stratocumulus. If air is moving upward through the atmosphere, clouds develop vertically forming shapes like cumulus and cumulonimbus.

Windows to the Universe contains photographs and information about different cloud types. For more information about cloud types and their identification, please visit the cloud types section.



Last modified October 31, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA