Thursday, December 15, 2016

Three Tips for Painting a Sunset

Southland Sunset, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches
The sun is behind two layers of clouds in this sunset study. The higher deck of clouds creates a thin layer of diffusion around the sun, which keeps the sun's brightness from being too intense to look at. There's just a small window through to the blue sky at upper right.

This sunset obeys three rules that usually apply:
1. Colors gradate to higher value and higher chroma approaching the position of the sun.
2. Hue shifts in broad bands from pale yellows higher up to reddish oranges near the horizon.
3. Foreground elements are not black. They maintain color identity in the darks. This is a big difference compared to how the camera sees a scene like this.

These effects intensify as the sunset proceeds until the sun passes below the tangent line of the earth, after which we would enter a dusk phase.

Any given phase of a sunset lasts no more than 10 minutes, so painting a scene like this from life requires a well organized palette, separate brushes for each color group, and accurate anticipation about what phase is likely to come next. I did not use a light on my palette for this one.
More on painting sunsets in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Amazon)
Also available signed from my website (USA customers)


Tom Hart said...

Very well done James!! At first I thought this was an "old master" example. Not that you're not a bona fide master yourself, but I was thinking it was one of the old masters.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Wow, I love the specific advice, especially the observation about the phases lasting only about 10 minutes each. Fascinating.

Luca said...

Susan, Andrew Loomis wrote (more or less, i can't remember the exact quote) that nature reserves its brightes colors for the most ephemeral things. It's a good reminder to use them sparingly but also to enjoy beautiful things like a sunset, i think :D

Tom , i had the same impression when i saw it :D perhaps because of the palette?

Unknown said...

Came across this on instagram James, reminded me immediately of a couple of constable sketches I had been reviewing. A superb study and one to hold onto.