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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tips for Painting a Magical Sunset

'Canyon Country Magic'               11x14            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase at 50% off
 Chasing sunsets. One of my favorite pastimes. It isn't something that is easy to do here in North Georgia....land of the hills and trees. Last night looked like the sunset was spectacular from what little I could see through the veil of trees in my backyard. It's frustrating!
 But when I travel I chase the sun!  I especially love visiting wide open spaces such as the Southwest where the sun really puts on a show and you can see it unfold. I have many favorite sunset spots (and photos) from my travels. These sunsets begged to be painted.

I want to paint Magical Sunsets. 

I want my sunset paintings to capture the colors and fleeting drama of the real thing. It is a challenge to turn some pigment and paper into a memory of a magical moment. It is so easy for sunset paintings to turn cliche.  I have figured out some little things that can make a big difference in creating the magic.

Terry Ludwig's 14 piece sunset collection


  • It begins with the right pastels. The best dramatic sunsets are painted with rich and intense color. The best artist grade pastels will do the best job. I also prefer to use soft richly pigmented pastels for the fire of the sunset. I want my marks to be rich and juicy and inexpensive or very hard pastels make it difficult to get the effect I want. I prefer using Terry Ludwig pastels. I used his 14 piece sunset set for the reds and oranges in today's painting. He now has a new sunrise/sunset set that is on my wish list!
  • Don't be afraid to be bold! I will reach for the most intense colors for the warmth of a fiery dramatic sunset. If you are painting a fiery sunset look for intense reds and oranges and yellow-oranges. Save the pale peaches and pinks for the subtle and softer sunsets. Even for the softer sunsets I will often start with a bright fluorescent pink and peach as a base. Remember you can always tone it down! Be bold!
  • Balance bold with dull. If everything is bright and intense nothing will glow so be sure to balance the fire with some ice....use the duller gray blues and violets to suggest the illusion of the light.




  • Watch where the sun places kisses. The glow of sunlight can often be seen on the ground....in the trees, on the edges of shrubs and grasses...whatever the light touches. Show the kiss of warmth with reds and oranges. Paint the glow!
  • The actual ball of sunshine is not necessarily bright yellow. Often we want to paint the sun yellow. This is the shortcut color we use for the local color of the sun. If we really want the sun to glow start by painting the area around it darker....darker yellow-oranges and yellows and end with a pale pale yellow to almost white. Try it both ways and see what a difference this makes!
  • Photographs don't help!  Photos often lie. The colors and exposure are often off especially for a high contrast scene such as a sunset. The ground is often a silhouette....black!  When we paint the ground black or too dark we end up with the typical cliched sunset and not the drama or magic of the real thing. Make adjustments to the painting based upon real life observation. Copying the photo can lead to trouble.


11x14 pastel

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Thank you very much to all of you who have purchased a painting this weekend. I look forward to you seeing them in person!

2 comments:

Polly Birchall said...

Wow, that is so dramatic

robertsloan2art said...

Beautiful, dramatic sunset truer than any photo. You're so right about sunset photos. They can be beautiful but digi or film, they lie like a rug. The point when the sky's at its most brilliant is also when everything else has a strong tint of blue-violet, almost perfect ultramarine, with strong hints of its local color.

The first digital camera I had, I was seeing gorgeous sunsets out my window and tried to photo them. No luck. Lots of strong pinks and golds with rich violet blue, but they melted away and the entire blued landscape turned black. It was always at least half an hour later in the photo at the point the last bits of light were bright against dark silhouettes.

One thing that struck me at the time was how if you had houses or other artificial lights coming on, you'd also get green accents of street lights or house lights or car headlights coming up under the nearest trees. They'd be nearly black against the sky with these splashes of reflected light from lawn lights or headlights coming up under them. Very eerie effect that'd make a neat accent in a painting, a good place for "spices" in bright yellow greens like a sap green.