So I’m a cloudspotter now

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and author of the main work of reference on the subject, The Cloudspotter’s Guide. You might call him the Steve Jobs of clouds, one of those people who has created a globe-spanning project out of nothing. In the process, however – and this sets him apart from everyone else – he’s always stayed true to the idea of nothing.

Pretor-Pinney felt that we never really do justice to our clouds – the real ones, not the digital ones – because we mainly see them as grey inducers of melancholy that blot out the sun, that chuck out large amounts of water at frequent intervals and always at just the wrong moment, thereby ruining our all-too-brief summer. This may well happen in the UK with a regularity that does indeed damage the cloud’s reputation, but perhaps this phenomenon deserves a more positive spin.

Pretor-Pinney decided to reframe the cloud, not least to defend it against its one-sided depiction in countless pop songs, from Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now) and Sting (Heavy Cloud No Rain) through to Morrissey (Black Clouds): “We all inhabit the same atmosphere and we all have the same cloud formations appearing above us.”

To draw the issue to people’s attention, he decided to give a public talk in London about the establishment of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Many members of the audience, thinking that he was referring to a project at an advanced stage of completion, went up to him afterwards to ask for membership forms. And so the Cloud Appreciation Society whose founding he had just spoken about somewhat precipitously but ultimately farsightedly, actually came into being.

I will not touch on any of the annual figures, locations and Excel-related details, which aren’t so important for people who prefer to linger in the cloudy parts of the sky. What counts is the fact that now, in late summer 2021 and toward the end of the great pandemic, the Cloud Appreciation Society has become a major part of many people’s lives. Across the world, not just in the UK.

And the Open editorial team will also be applying for group membership. As Gavin Pretor-Pinney says: “I always say that cloudspotting is an excuse. It legitimizes doing nothing, and I think that’s valuable these days. I think this idea of stepping back, of allowing the brain to go into idle mode is really central to creative thought.”


Gevin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotters Guide, 2007
Gevin Pretor-Pinney, The Wave Watcher’s companion, 2010