Painting a Sunset

To end this course we will finish by painting a sunset. One of the most interesting aspects of using watercolors is that sometimes you just don’t know where the paint is going to go. When a piece calls for a wash, the water often moves the paint in ways you don’t expect, but the results can be beautiful. By painting a sunset in watercolors, you can practice using just such a wash.



  • Watercolors

  • Palette

  • Paper

  • Tape (artist’s tape or masking tape)

  • Paper towels

  • Large flat brush, smaller round brush

  • Container with water

  • Foam board or smooth cardboard


Preparing to Paint

Using the artist’s tape or masking tape, affix the edges of your watercolor paper to the piece of foam board or cardboard. This will prevent the paper from curling up as you apply water to it. Depending on the thickness of your paper, it will probably still buckle. However, if you allow it to dry on the board before removing the tape, it will dry flat.


















Choose the colors you want to use for your sunset. You may choose to create a sunset with a warm glow with red, yellow, and orange. Or you can choose cooler colors such as purple, blue, and pink. Squeeze a small amount of each color onto your palette; you’ll want to have the colors ready to use before you start painting.

Be sure you have the rest of your supplies nearby. Use the container of water to rinse out your brushes when you change colors. You can dab your rinsed brush on the paper towel to make sure it is clean.


Draw Your Silhouettes

When you paint a sunset, you can include objects in the foreground that appear as silhouettes. These may be trees, a house, a fence, an animal – it’s up to you! For this demonstration, we’ll be painting some trees. Here are some you might choose from:
























Before you begin painting, however, it will be helpful if you have the shapes already drawn on the paper. With watercolors, it works best if you draw BEFORE you paint. Once you’ve painted the background, you can still draw, but you can’t erase any lines. Sketch in a horizon line about 2/3 down the paper. This doesn’t need to be a straight line – the ground is usually uneven and full of small hills and bumps.

Next, draw in the silhouettes of the trees you want to include. Remember – you’ll be painting the outline of the tree and then just filling the whole thing in with a dark color.


Start Painting!

With watercolors, darker colors cover lighter colors, but lighter colors cannot cover darker ones. Because the silhouettes will be darker than the sunset, paint the sky first.

To create a seamless, colorful sunset, you are going to paint a wash.



















To paint a wash, first wet the paper where you want the colors to go. For this painting, you will wet down the paper from the top of the page to the ground. To wet the paper, dip your brush into a jar or cup of clean water. Wipe the excess off on the edge of the mouth of the jar.

Now brush the water onto the paper as if it were paint. Be sure the water goes on evenly; you don’t want puddles of excess water. If you end of with a puddle or two, absorb some of it in a paper towel.




















It’s time to apply the paint! Choose your first color. Paint it across the top of your paper with a horizontal stroke – a side to side motion. The sky is so big and wide and expansive – you can show that with the horizontal strokes.



















Choose the next color for your sky. Paint it right beneath the first color so the two colors just touch. If the paper is very wet, they will blend together on their own. If the colors aren’t moving much, move your brush back and forth several times where the two colors meet.



















Choose the next color for your sky. Follow the same steps, painting it just below the second color and letting the two colors run together. Again, if you need to blend them more, take your brush across the place where they meet a few times. Continue with the rest of the colors you chose in the same way until you reach the “ground”. You may use two, three, four, or more colors – it’s up to you!






















Painting the Silhouettes

After your sky is completely dry, you can paint the silhouettes. You might choose a black or dark grey such as Payne’s Grey for these areas. Fill in the land and trees with the dark-colored paint.






















Sign it!

Your artist’s signature should go in one of the lower corners, but there the painting is black. Choose a lighter color and dip into the paint. Keep it much thicker than you normally would; you should be able to paint with it over the black areas. You can use your first name, your last name, your middle name, your initials, your nickname – or whatever combination you choose. Sign it, and you’re done!