1. Place Your Horizon Line Carefully
Drafting up a sunset painting is reasonably easy, but it’s important to position your horizon line carefully. Your horizon line will determine where the sunset is being viewed from. For example, if you position your horizon line low on the painting, it will feel like the scene is being viewed from a high point. If the horizon line is high, it indicates that it is being viewed closer to the ground.
2. Tint the Canvas
The secret to a good sunset painting is to create a glow from within and to use a combination of similar colours. Even if the sky looks like it’s one colour, there are many subtle tones throughout the hue. To achieve these subtle variations, use a combination of similar colours to tint the canvas (the base coat), then apply a top coat with varying thickness to allow the base coat to be more visible in certain areas. For more tips on tinting your canvas, watch our sunset painting video tutorial.
3. Pay Attention to Perspective
Sunsets are an exercise in perspective. Pay close attention to the size and position of the different elements in your painting. For example, clouds in the distance will be smaller and lower, whereas clouds that are closer will be larger and higher in the painting.
4. Keep Your Colours Clean
Give your sunset maximum impact by keeping your colours clean. The clouds can be a little dirty, but the sky should be vibrant. The luminosity of your colours is key to creating a convincing sunset. Complimentary colours generally become muddy when mixed together, so we would recommend avoiding this combination where possible. You will need to be particularly careful when blending blue and orange because it will quickly turn into a brown.
5. Use Glazes
A glaze is created when you mix paint with a clear medium to create translucency. Glazes are perfect for sunset paintings because they can be used to increase vibrancy and create optical blending of complimentary colours. Optical blending is when you put unmixed colours next to each other on a painting and the viewer perceives these as a new, mixed colour. One way to achieve this effect is to apply your first colour, let it dry and then paint a glaze on top of it.
6. Use Contrast
Create an eye-catching sunset by contrasting your colours. If the sky is too bright, the intensity of the sun will be lost. To make your sun really stand out, use a bright colour for your sun and darker colours for the surrounding sky.
7. Make Your Clouds Fluffy
It’s important to ensure that the clouds in your sunset painting have no hard edges and are not too uniform. Clouds diffuse light and are the reason sunsets have such beautiful, warm and varying colours. This means they are not always white and will, on most occasions, be affected by the ambient light that surrounds them.
8. Don’t Overwork the Foreground
The main focal point is the setting sun and the sky around it. For this reason, you should simplify the foreground so that it doesn’t compete with the sunset.
9. Add Reflections to the Water
If your sunset is over the ocean, or another body of water, your scene will have a beautiful reflection. When you’re creating this reflection, think of it as a simplified upside-down version of the painting. Many artists actually turn the painting upside-down to create an accurate reflection. All the colours will be the same, but the tones will be slightly more subdued.
10. Think a Little Bit Like an Impressionist
When creating a sunset painting, we find it helpful to think a bit like an Impressionist. If you look closely at sunset paintings, they often share many traits found in an Impressionist style painting. For example, Impressionist painters created scenes by paying close attention to the effects of light, but not necessarily recording all the smaller details.
When it comes to painting sunsets, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Use our top tips to capture the subtle, yet stunning, beauty of this timeless subject. To learn more about sunset painting, watch our step-by-step video tutorial. Share your work with us on social media by using @montmarteart.