Lynn says, "I have a question on sunset paintings. Each evening on my way home from work, I watch these beautiful sunsets with vivid colors. Silhouetted against the sky, the trees and buildings seem very dark, but I cannot find the color answer to paint them. While they appear very dark, painted dark looks very harsh and unbelievable. Any advice?"
The subject of sunsets is often selected by students when I do workshops. Generally, I'd say stay away from doing them but if tackling the subject I try and remember a few things.
1. Try and make notes of color either mental or better yet with a very quick thumbnail sketch on location to record the colors in the sky and use those color notes when doing the painting.
2. Remember that when using a photograph of a sunset, the camera will not see even a small portion of the colors that the eye can see in real life especially when looking at a high contrast subject such as a sunset. The photo will either wash out the sky colors and leave you with the land portion exposed correctly OR if the camera is exposed for the sky, the photo will leave you with a black landscape. Chances are you aren't going to get a good exposure on the sky and the land in one shot. This puts any artist at a disadvantage when painting from a photo.
3. I never use black on a sunset painting. A sunset painting is all about color and black will kill it. I use a mix of transparent colors such as alizarin crimson and thalo blue or ultramarine blue to give a very dark color. I stay away from using any opaque colors when trying to make these darks or at least I might use them very sparingly. For instance maybe a small touch of burnt sienna in the dark areas as in the painting below. When I use black it is always to make a color greyer and not necessarily darker.
4. Remember the landscape becomes very secondary in most sunset paintings and usually ends up as silhouette. Detail usually becomes soft.
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5. Consider doing a sunset painting before the last minute of sunset when the landscape still has more light on it. Here's an example of that.