Monday, June 27, 2016

Painting a Sunset Light Effect

(Link to YouTube) I want to show you how to paint a sunset light effect. I start with a watercolor sketchbook primed with a tint of Venetian red casein. It is OK to use acrylic paint or gesso for the priming also.

I paint the sky with white gouache. The darks are mixed from ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. All the shadows near the setting sun are part of a large gradation that transitions through orange colors into browns and grays.

Most of the painting is done with a 1/2 inch flat synthetic brush and a very small round brush. I ignore the actual colors and reduce everything to two values. The key to this approach is the intentional sacrifice of detail in favor of a larger light effect.
The tutorial Gouache in the Wild doesn't contain this painting  (which I did two days ago), but it has other gouache paintings done on location.


A Colonel of Truth said...

In the essence, of anything, rests beauty. To see it a reward. To paint it a joy. Nice!

widdly said...


Did you prime the page with the red paint beforehand and then find an apropriate place to paint? I have some dud pages in my sketchbook and I am tempted to paint over them in acrylic gouache and start again. For a first timer, is there an underpainting color that is easier to work with or more likely to be successful? Does the underpainting color dictate what kind of scene or lighting effect you seek out to paint?

The colors in the painting are very dramatic. Would other color schemes work for this kind of facing into the sunset painting? For example, I sometimes observe a lot of pink and blue in the evening sky. It seems the shapes and values here are based on observation but the colours come from a prior plan.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Colonel.

Widdly, yes, I primed over over a dud sketch. But sometimes I just prime a page anyway, just because I love painting on primed surfaces. If you want to work very opaquely, it's usually a good idea to prime the surface a color that's complementary to the general color tone you expect to use on the painting. So red underpainting for a green painting, or blue underpainting for a warm colored painting. But not always. The advantage of having a priming color that matches the mood you want is that you can work more transparently. I would just say experiment and try all kinds of experiments, and see what works for you.

Tom Hart said...

Wise words in your advice to Widdly: "Usually a good idea...But not always." Every single art "rule" that I can think of should be read with that understanding. That's one of the things I love most about art. And often it's in going to the "not always" side that we make the breakthroughs.

Unknown said...

Wow, that's beautiful.

escuderoimagine said...

Hello James
How can you do this kind of gradiations with gouache without move the previous layers?
it's very sensible technique for me.
Is it about paper, permanent pigments?


James Gurney said...

Álvaro, Thank you for asking this important question. The key to this kind of gradation is that it has to be done FAST, ONCE, and CORRECTLY. There's no adjusting or doing it again, and it's almost impossible to match part of the gradation later.

Rich said...

"Fast, Once, and Correctly"...

like Hitting the Nail on the Head;-)

you once more nailed it down:

What a beautiful, burning sunset.

Glenn Tait said...

Love the painting. Did you prepare a colour string before painting the gradation for the sunset ?

escuderoimagine said...

Ey James! Thanks a lot :)
I saw other contemporany artist like Nathan fowkes using watercolors plus permanent white gouache, and using them in the end like ACRILICS! hahaha almost it looks like.
Yep, I suppose it always depends in the correct process you are using.

I was always in the same crossroad... Do I have to start whith gradiation like base or use it in the last step like a glaze (oil technique) to do gradiations?