So many people have asked me to make a video on how to paint sunsets I thought it's about time I got around to it, so here we are (and the next workshop after this will explore the subject further).
Why do we love sunsets so much? Well they're beautiful aren't they!? But why are they so particularly beautiful to us? Maybe it's because they are rare and fleeting - they don't last very long and so they're precious. Maybe it's because the strong contrasts in color are exciting for our eyes to look at. Perhaps our strong feelings towards sunsets are the echoes of our past, from a time when sunset meant the approach of the sacred night, a time to keep the fire bright to ward off predators and a time to share the evening rituals of eating, sharing stories around the fire and the other pleasures of the night. Maybe it's all of those things rolled into one, but whatever it is about sunsets, they continue to draw us to them, and for painters like you and I they are an exciting and elusive source of inspiration.
Project 6 : Colour Harmony
"Rogue Wave 12x12" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson
A colourful sunset tempts the artist like nothing else to cover the canvas in all the vibrant colours they can get their hands on. It's very hard to resist all that colour, and that's why amongst artists at least, sunset paintings have something of bad reputation for being too gaudy and commercial. Beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder. Some people simply prefer lots of vibrant colours together in a painting, whereas some prefer a slightly more subdued colour scheme. I personally find that a painting containing a good amount of fairly gray colour makes a beautiful stage for more vibrant colours to work upon. What's a good way to achieve that in a sunset painting? Sunsets themselves give us a big clue - they create strong colour complements. Yellow and violet for instance. If we were to use a complementary colour scheme like that in a sunset painting it would make it easier for us in a number of ways:
1. All colour harmonies are based on excluding some part of the colour wheel (just as playing every note on a piano at once doesn't produce a nice sound (record audio), so can too many colours produce a visual cacophony). A two colour complementary scheme excludes much of the colour wheel so it makes a simple colour harmony easily achievable.
2. Mixing complements together often creates a beautiful chromatic (colourful) gray, which is perfect for use within that same complementary scheme.
3. Simplifying our palette makes colour choices much easier and greatly reduces the chance of muddy colour, which is just a grayed colour in the wrong place in a painting.
In the demo video we look at using the Gamut Mask tool to help us develop a simple colour scheme and then we mix colour strings on our palette to use that colour scheme in the painting. We also look at the special effects created when light and water interact and what special brushwork techniques we can use in a scene like this.
Feel free to follow me step by step in painting the same scene or use the photos below or your own resources to design a piece that is more your own. You can paint this any size or shape you like using any medium. Happy painting!
Click image to enlarge.
Garrapata, California, USA
"Partners at Garrapatta"
13 x 22" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson
Note: If you can't see the videos on this page (above) or on Youtube, I can't help with that sorry - there will be something wrong with your computer settings, but I'm no computer wiz. You would need to contact a computery person to fix that problem.
Extra Materials for Acrylic Painters
Painters using acrylics can do all the same techniques presented in these projects, but the trick for them is to keep their paints wet on the palette and on the painting itself, which just means using one or all of three things to help with that - a stay-wet-palette, a water spray bottle to spray the palette and the painting every few minutes, and a retarder medium to slow the drying time of the paint. It also pays to mix twice as much paint as you think you will need.
Good work Jim, you've really captured the translucency of the wave and the reflections in the wet sand all while staying within the yellow orange/blue violet complementary colour scheme. Your rocks are solidly rendered for the most part with well described light and shade planes. A couple of things I would change would be to remove the darker smudges close to the sun which spoil the glowing effect, to add a little more detail to the face of the secondary wave in the midground and the highlighting of the water just behind it. Also there is a light patch in the shadow side of the main rock which doesn't seem to belong there. Other than that it's all good.
Hi Jennifer, you did a really nice job with this colour scheme - not an easy one to get right and quite a brain bender at times. I especially like the splatters you made in the crashing foam - a nice touch and not overdone. I can't see anything I would change. Great work!
Nice one Karlo! Good design, well balanced and a nice overall spotlight effect helping us focus on the centre of interest. The yellow sky works really well and you've toned the hills in with that nicely giving convincing atmospheric perspective and the soft edge on those is helping a lot too. For contrast I'd like to see the top edges of the main rocks made a little sharper against the sky. Your brushwork is really exciting and it's great to see you've made good use of the palette knife to indicate all the intricately detailed foam. Beautiful painting!
Congratulations for taking the leap and composing a scene from 3 different photos with this painting Carolyn. You've certainly expressed the awesome energy of pounding breakers in this piece and have done well using the red orange/blue green colour scheme too. Love the peachy sky.
The Altered Version
I've taken the liberty of trying out a few changes in photoshop here. I darkened the sky except for an oval section above the wave and I also darkened the foam burst on the far right. Then I added a little more warmth (orange) to the foam from the main wave (for sunlight) and lightened the central foam and reflected that light a little in the foreground water. Just a few subtle changes to help focus the attention on the central wave.
Great to see you working from your own resource photo on this one Nancy. Morro looks like a great place to paint. I like the action of the wave and the movement in the sky, the balance of warm and cool colour and the glowing effect of the sun. Here are some things I'd personally look at changing:
1. The gradation of colour in the face of the wave. The warm light of the sun wouldn't penetrate so strongly lower down so it should get gradually darker and cooler there.
2. Be more mindful of the shadow side of your wave so that all foam on this side of the wave is in shadow.
3. Change one of the two foreground rocks on the left so that neither is the same shape and size as the other. At the moment they are reflected twins. You could always join them together too.
I hope that helps.
My final paintings
Thumbnail Sketches, about 2x2" each. Note the directional arrows indicating movement.
Value Study using Chromatic Black and Titanium White. Chromatic black is a mixture of any dark colours resulting in a more interesting black than standard tube black. I used Ultramarine Blue, Pyrrole (or Cad) Red and Yellow Ochre.
5x5" Colour study using Yellow Orange and Blue Violet colour strings.
5x5" Colour study using Red Orange and Blue Green colour strings.
The Gamut Mask and Colour String I used for the Yellow Orange and Blue Violet colour study above.
The Gamut Mask and Colour String I used for the Red Orange and Blue Green colour study above.
Colour Studies 4.5 x 4.5" Oil on Canvas
"Rogue Wave 12x12" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson
Get the Demonstration Video
(Only available in the complete Mastering Sunsets course)
Mastering Sunsets The Complete Course for Oils or Acrylics, Beginner to Advanced
Sunsets are one of the most alluring subjects for painters, but also one of the trickiest to get right. Learn the keys to painting successful sunsets in this comprehensive and inspiring course with New Zealand artist Richard Robinson.
2.5 Hours of easy to follow tutorials
7 Complete painting demonstrations
30 Student critiques
*80 Pages of printable lesson notes
Online colour harmony tool
Bonus online content
Running Time: 2.5 Hours Format: DVD or View Online/Download