Painting a red sunset sky and foreground with watercolor

Painting a sunset sky with watercolor

The next step involved putting in the red sunset sky and foreground.

The focal point of this painting is the beautiful church domes so I want to make sure that they really stand out. To do this I will ensure that they have a lot of light shining on them.

Also as the buildings in the distance are primarily a white or light grey color a lot of the light from the sky (which will be made up of oranges, reds and blue) will be reflected onto the building surfaces. To achieve this effect I will be painting the sky right across the distant buildings and then in the next step will apply a glaze over the top.

Colors used for painting the red sunset sky:

Winsor and Newton Artists Quality paint only – Cad Orange, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Cad Yellow Pale.

Colors used for the foreground: French Ultramarine, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna.

The first step in doing the sky is to paint around the sun shape with clean water.  The reason I do this is so that as I paint in the sky the paint will easily flow around the sun shape. Otherwise if you try to paint around this round shape with your initial wash it will take too much time which may allow the rest of the sky to dry with a hard edge before you get a chance to finish it, or you may try to paint around it too fast and not end up with a nice circular shape.

How to paint a sun wet around circle with water
Figure 3: Paint around the sun shape with clean water

While the ring of water is still very wet, paint in some very weak Cad Yellow Pale around the sun and through to the domes of the church.

Cad Yellow Pale is painted around sun and towards church domes
Figure 4: Weak tea strength Cad Yellow Pale is painted around sun and towards church domes.

While the Cad Yellow Pale is still wet, proceed to paint the rest of this dramatic sky.

First I drop the angle of my painting to almost horizontal, to about 5 degrees. I want the paint to flow down the page but only very slowly. If the angle is too steep the various colors all flow down towards the bottom and mix giving an overall grey color. I want them to flow a little to help give the cloud shapes a soft look, but I don’t want them to flow too much.

I then paint the rest of the sky area down to the horizon line with a very weak wash of Cad Orange. The Cad Orange mixture should be around the strength of tea. I paint this through the buildings as well as the sky.

Next I start to drop in some red sunset type clouds with the Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  I place big cloud shapes in the foreground and smaller and lighter ones as they recede.  While these cloud shapes are settling down I paint in some Cobalt Blue, about the same strength as a weak coffee mix, into the lower part of the sky area.

I now take some time to reestablish the cloud shapes with some stronger mixes of the Permanent Alizarin with a touch of Cobalt Blue or even a touch of French Ultramarine.

Continue painting dramatic red sunset sun sky
Figure 5: Completed red sunset sky

The aim is to have a yellowish sky area, in a bit of an “S” shape leading from the top towards the church domes.

As soon as I am happy with how the cloud shapes have worked I leave them!

I now use a barely damp brush and drag some sky color over into the sun shape to give this impression of clouds in front of it. You have to do this while the sky is still wet or it will not work properly.

Venice red sunset sun dragging damp paint across face of sun
Figure 6: Dragging damp paint across the face of the sun to create impression of clouds

I create a purple mix of French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson  and use this to paint in a soft impression of the distant island on the very left had side of the painting – this is just a soft edged shape, no details of any buildings whatsoever.

While the sky is drying, I paint the foreground area with a strong mixture of French Ultramarine, a little Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a touch of Burnt Sienna. I aim to have some of the sky area mix, which has beaded at the bottom of the buildings, flow down into the foreground. This gives a little highlight area on the right hand side.

I aim to create a little texture in this foreground area by dropping in different consistencies of paint, maybe even some clean water so that the foreground has a little life in it. I also try to leave some unpainted areas for highlights through the use of some quick dry brush strokes.

I then let all of this dry thoroughly.  Go off and have a break and come back when the paper is completely dry.  The temptation is to keep working as soon as the sheet is surface dry but if your watercolor paper is still wet underneath the surface it will result in the watercolor you have already laid down re-liquefying as soon as you try to place a glaze of paint over the top of it. This will most likely produce a muddy, unclean looking passage of watercolor – not what you want. So let it dry.

You can also use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process, but again, make sure the paper is dry all the way through, and then let it cool down before you proceed to the next step.

Finishing the red sunset sky and the foreground watercolor painting
Figure 6: Paint the rest of the red sunset sky and foreground

Continue to: Watercolor painting of  Santa Maria Della Salute, Venice