How to Paint a Night Sky
We live in the middle of nowhere, which is kind of cool because I like nowhere kinds of places. Plus, we can see the stars! I really love gazing at the night sky and have wanted to try and capture on paper an impression of what I see.
After completing about a dozen different painting experiments ranging from alcohol to bleach to who knows what else— which were all really fun but really messy— I've found a simple way to beautifully depict a night sky.
I hope this tutorial on how to paint a night sky helps with your sketching and journaling efforts. Below are the steps on how to capture your own starry night!
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*A note on papers: For this project, I used Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media paper but a good watercolor paper will also work. If you plan to add any pen or calligraphy to your completed sketch, avoid a textured or cold-pressed paper which can cause issues with penmanship.
Step 1: Apply an inky base coat.
Taping your paper down is optional but it helps it to stay put while you are applying ink/paint. I just use standard painter's tape. It works great and costs a fraction of those expensive artists' tapes.
I highly recommend you take everything outside or put down a protective surface first. To do this technique, you are going to work fast while the ink and paints are still wet, and you are going to be splattering these mediums. I tend to make a mess when I do this indoors.
Whenever you are ready, paint a solid wash of black ink across the entire paper. Don't worry if you can see the brushstrokes— this is is actually what you are going for!
I chose to use black ink instead of watercolor for several reasons, but mainly because ink tends to cover on the first stroke much better than watercolor. The photo above shows a comparison of one stroke of Ivory Black watercolor (top) versus one stroke of Higgins Eternal ink (bottom).
If all you have is a black watercolor, feel free to use it. Unless it is highly staining, it should work for this technique. I haven't tried it, but a thinned acrylic may also also work, so use what you've got!
Step 2: Add a touch of blue.
Immediately after applying the black ink base coat, while the ink is still very wet, wash in a swipe or two of the dark blue watercolor.
I like to do this because it gives the sky more depth than just the black, but this step is totally optional! At the end of the post, I will show you a night sky I did just using black ink, which is great also.
Step 3: Create stars.
Still working quickly while everything is very wet, use the water-filled spray bottle to lightly mist the painting. The water hitting the wet pigment will create a neat effect of cauliflower-like stars.
I like to spray at a slight angle so the effect is directional, but this is so much fun to play around with so feel free to get creative. You can also use the spray to create a Milky Way space across the page or other galactic effects. Just don't go overboard because it's easy to spray all of the pigment off the paper!
Step 4: Add a splash of warmth.
Now you can breathe for a moment and allow the painting to partially dry. When the painting is still about 50-percent wet, dip the toothbrush in a slightly diluted amount of yellow watercolor paint. Using your fingertip, flick the bristles of the watercolor-loaded toothbrush to create a light splattering of yellow dots across the page.
Where the pigment is still wet, the paint will bleed and "cauliflower" creating a lovely starburst effect. Where the painting is dry, the paint will look more like distant, tiny stars.
This is an optional step so if you don't have yellow watercolor paint, feel free to skip it, but I love to add a bit of warmth to the galaxy.
We often think of stars as white, but if you look at the night sky long enough, you can see a range of colors! Astronomers classify stars according to luminosity, brightness, temperature, and color. If you practice the art of star gazing, yellows along with reds and blues will begin to become apparent to you. Look for this effect next time you have a clear view of the night sky!
Step 5: Add a final star layer.
When the painting is nearly dry but not all the way, lightly dip the (cleaned) toothbrush into the white calligraphy ink. Just like you did with the yellow watercolor paint, flick the bristles of the toothbrush to create a light splattering of white dots across the page.
Again, just like the yellow watercolor paint, the ink will leave solid flecks where the paper is dry and create lovely "starburst" effects where the painting is still wet.
Now set your painting aside and allow it to dry completely.
Step 6: Enjoy your masterpiece!
This was such a fun process for me, so I hope you will enjoy it also! The great thing about this technique is that every night sky painting that you create will be different, kind of like the ever changing skyline above us.
Again, if you don't have all the materials in the list, don't worry about it. Above, you can see two different night skies that I created. The one on the right is the one in the tutorial. The one on the left was completed without watercolor.
The monochromatic look may not make a difference to you, especially if you intend to use the night sky painting as a backdrop like in the photo below.
If you use this technique, I'd love to see your night sky. You can email me at the link below, or if you post on social media, be sure to tag me. Enjoy!
Three steps to a sparkling night sky in watercolour
Watercolour is an incredible medium that, with the right art techniques can be used to make the most magical and unique images. It can create anything, from helping you with how to draw landscapes such as a bright sunny day as well as a deep dark night, or even with how to draw animals. Here, we'll create a mysterious starry night using watercolour and masking fluid.
To create the randomness of stars, I will spray it onto paper using an old toothbrush. When this stage is done, I can colour the sky with dark shades and different tones. The branches of trees will then cover some parts of the sky, especially near the horizon.
I'm using a wet-in-wet technique here, but note that masking fluid should be used on dry paper only. Any small details can be painted on the dry paper too. And, remember, to save time you can always use a hairdryer.
A word of warning: before you start using masking fluid for watercolour, cover your brush with soap. This will prevent the masking fluid from sticking to your brush. However, as a precaution, it's best not to use your favourite brush for it. You can also use the end of brush handle to apply the fluid.
01. Place spots on watercolour paper
First, I place light yellow and blue spots on very wet watercolour paper. It will form the colour of the stars. I then dry the paper using a hairdryer. Then I add masking fluid using a toothbrush, as shown above. These spatters will soon be stars!
I remove any unnecessary drops and let the paper dry. Note that the masking fluid should dry completely before starting the next step.
02. Paint around the masking fluid
I then wet the paper again, to paint a gradient. I place the dark colours on the top and mix them with warm tones near the horizon. I use Payne's Grey, Perylene Violet, Permanent Mauve, Manganese Blue Hue, Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue, Orange and Lemon-Yellow colours. Then, I add a yellow and blue glow around stars. They are still masked, so I paint around the masking fluid.
03. Remove the masking fluid
It's now time to remove the masking fluid using an eraser. I paint tree branches using dark tones, and wash out a few branches with a wet flat synthetic brush so they are visible on the dark background. Every time I erase masking fluid it feels like a miracle! We are now done.
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How to Paint Beautiful Night Sky Paintings (Watercolour Tutorial)
We look up at the night sky to observe constellations, make wishes, and contemplate the universe.
These are just a few of the emotions that we can invoke in our own artworks whenever we paint night skies.
But, as an artist, the problem you might be wondering is: How do I make my night sky painting look amazing?
In this night sky painting tutorial, I’ll guide you through:
- A simple step by step process to create a night sky painting
- A list of recommended supplies that you will need
- Watercolour tricks and tips to make painting easier
By the time you’re finished, you’ll have the knowledge to paint starry night sky paintings that you’ll be proud of!
DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a qualified purchase using any of the links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I appreciate every sale because it supports my mission as well as the continued growth of this website.
Materials You Will Need
Before beginning, you must make sure that you have prepped all the proper materials.
Nothing is worse than getting half way through your painting only to realize that you forgot one of your supplies.
Below is a list of art supplies that you’ll need:
- Watercolour pans or tubes
- A mop brush or a large flat brush
- A medium size 8 round brush
- Two cups of clear water
- A mixing palette
- 100% cotton paper, cold-pressed
- Painter’s tape
- A cloth or paper towel
- A pencil
As well, here’s a list of watercolour supplies I’m using in this tutorial:
Now that you identified the materials you will need, go ahead and gather them. Then return to this article when you’re ready to start!
The painting’s beauty lies in it’s simplicity, and it’s rather quick and easy to create. That makes it perfect for artists who are looking for a fun little project to do!
1. Create a Thumbnail For Your Night Sky Painting
Slow down there!
I know it’s exciting to dive right into the fun stuff, but there’s still one more thing you should do before you begin painting.
After all, remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin:
If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
I always recommend that before you start painting with watercolours, you prepare by drawing a few thumbnails either in your sketchbook or on a scrap piece of paper.
A thumbnail is a small sketch that artists use to map out the composition of their artwork before they start creating it.
Drawing a thumbnail helps you envision the picture by organizing the elements and values beforehand. So you should create a thumbnail to act as a point of reference for your painting.
So, divide your thumbnail into three lines vertically and three lines horizontally so that the boxes are evenly spaced.
- First, the lower third of the painting will represent the land, so create random lines to outline the forest of trees.
- Next, draw a circle or crescent somewhere in the sky to indicate where the moon is. You can add comets or any other celestial entity if you’d like.
- If you need inspiration, check out this Google Images search to find tons of night sky paintings to use as drawing inspiration for your thumbnail.
2. Choose Your Colour Palette
You don’t have to choose the exact colours that I’m using in this tutorial, so feel free to use whatever colours you have.
Just make sure to test your paints beforehand by swatching them and making sure that the colours blend well together.
In fact, check out this article which is written to give beginners advice on how to avoid making common watercolour mistakes.
Nothing is worse than when you commit to using colours that create muddy browns. So here’s how to choose an optimal colour palette:
- Limit your palette to 3 colours so as to not overcomplicate things
- Use black or Payne’s Gray as the darkest colour
- Use white for the stars
In this night sky painting tutorial, I’m using White Nights Watercolours Set of 36 Whole Pans. I highly recommend them because the paints are smooth, they blend well, and the set is affordable for professional quality paints.
3 of the colours will create the colourful sky, the black (or Payne’s Gray) will darken the sky to give it the nighttime appearance, and the white will be used to create the stars.
- Colour 1: Yellow
- Colour 2: Turquoise Blue
- Colour 3: Indanthrene Blue
- Colour 4: Payne’s Gray (an alternative to Neutral Black)
- Colour 5: Zinc White (an alternative could be white gouache)
3. Paint the Background Layers
Alright, it’s time to rumble!
Tape down the edges and corners of the paper. You should do this in order to keep the paper flat during the painting process.
If you want to create a starry night sky painting with masking fluid, make sure you block off a circular or crescent-shaped section of the sky where you want the moon to be.
Or, alternatively, you can cut out a piece of your tape in the shape of a circle or crescent and use that instead. Both options work well.
- Now, take a pencil and lightly sketch in the outlines of the mountains and trees on the watercolour paper. It should resemble the thumbnail you already created
- Take your largest brush and soak it. Then, gently brush it across the entire surface of the paper. Make sure the water’s not beading
For optimal results, the paper should have an even and glossy sheen. If there are excess beads of water, dab them with a paper towel.
- Dip your brush into your lightest colour (here I’m using Yellow) and glide the brush across the bottom of the paper, working your way up
- Grab your second colour and repeat step 3. This time, you want to concentrate the colour above your first colour to blend them. This time, I’m using Turquoise Blue
- Take your darkest colour and repeat step 3. I’m using Indanthrene blue
If you’re wondering why your painting looks like a giant blob of ugliness, don’t fear! It’s perfectly normal for a watercolour painting to go through a so-called “ugly stage.”
4. Build Up the Layers
This next step is super easy:
All you have to do is repeat steps 1 to 5 from the previous section in order to intensify the colours and build upon the previous layer.
Just make sure you’re controlling the water well but using an appropriate water to paint ratio when painting each new layer.
Then, you’re going to add one more step:
- 6. Add Payne’s Gray (or black) to the top of the painting, which is the darkest part of the night sky. The more you add, the darker the sky will appear.
So, when your night sky painting has dried, go ahead and rewet the paper to add more colours to the night sky.
Once you have repeated the steps to build up your second layer, wait for the paper to dry.
At this point, you could add another layer if you’re not yet satisfied with the night sky. After all, layering helps you learn how to achieve transparency in watercolour.
Note: This layer looks more vibrant because the first layer is showing through the second layer, which intensifies the colourful pigments.
5. Splatter the Stars
At this point, I like to paint the stars using the splattering technique.
The splattering technique is when you load up your brush with paint and tap the brush to create tons of little speckles on your painting.
The splattering technique one of the most enjoyablewatercolour techniques that lends itself very well to night sky paintings.
You could do this step after painting the trees, but I prefer to do it before so that I don’t risk getting stars all over the dark silhouettes.
So, to splatter the stars, you need to use either two brushes or a toothbrush. The choice is yours.
To effectively splatter the stars, do the following:
- First, dilute the white paint (or use ink). Here I’m diluting Zinc White
- Second, load up your brush with the paint. Make sure it’s not too watery or else you will splatter water droplets all over the painting
- Third, tap your brush against another brush. Do this gently, and observe how the paint splatters flecks of white all over the paper
- If you splatter too many stars, use a tissue or paper towel to dab away any unwanted stars or water drops
6. Paint the Tree Silhouettes
In this section, you’re going to use black, Payne’s Gray, or India ink for the trees.
When analyzing depth, remember these guidelines:
- Objects that are closer to the viewer (in the foreground) tend to be darker
- Objects that are father away from the viewer (in the background) tend to be lighter
Paint a couple of vertical lines where you want the trees to be. Make sure they are varying in height so that the trees look more organic.
Don’t add too many big trees because the focus should be on the sky. After all, you don’t want the trees to distract from the beautiful night sky painting that you’re creating.
Note: Your brushstrokes should be random and not orderly so as to give the trees a more organic and authentic feel.
When you’re finished, allow the paint to dry before you proceed to the final steps.
7. The Finishing Touches
Last but not least, you’re going to paint the beautiful moon and add some finishing touches!
If you used masking fluid, rub the dried fluid off of the area where you planned to put the moon. If you used a piece of tape, take it off now.
If you want to add additional details such as craters to the moon, be very careful so that you don’t overdo or run your pretty moon.
If you opted for white gouache, paint your moon on top of the dried watercolour paint.
And now you’ve created a starry night sky painting with a moon!
Here are a few additional things you can do to add more detail to your painting:Your brushstrokes should be random and not orderly so as to give the trees a more organic and authentic feel
- Darken the bottom of the trees to make the forest look fuller, but make sure the tops are more sparse since the foliage is less dense
- Add comets or sparkling stars of various sizes to your sky to add visual interest and variety
To finish, all you have to do is peel the tape away from the borders of your painting, and you’re all done!
Wasn’t that really easy to paint?
In this step by step tutorial, you learned how to create an easy night sky painting that will wow your friends and family.
You learned about the importance of using the wet on wet technique. And you incorporated the splattering technique to make stars.
As well, you understood why thumbnails are crucial for planning out a painting’s composition beforehand.
Now, if you enjoy learning to paint with watercolours, I highly encourage you to check out these popular watercolour tutorials:
Do you enjoy watercolour painting? Share your opinion in the comments below!
MIRANDA BALOGH is an artist and blogger who loves teaching her audience how to paint confidently with watercolours. As a former ESL teacher, she uses online education to inspire artists to leverage their skills in an increasingly visual and digital world. Follow her creative journey @mirandabalogh.art on Instagram.
Starry Night Sky Tutorial
Today I will be showing a step by step tutorial on painting a simple starry night sky! I will be using only the default brushes provided by the Clip Studio Program for your convenience but if there are personal brushes that you feel might work better for certain effects, please go straight ahead!
Before We Start
Before we begin the tutorial, I'd like to point out the brushes and the layer settings that I will be using.
1) G-Pen: This default brush will be used for blocking out the initial color scheme of the painting. It will also be used at the end to block in the mountains.
2) Running Edge Watercolor: This default watercolor brush will be the most frequently used during this tutorial. It will be used for both the clouds and the lighting required to achieve the glowing effect shown in the painting.
3) Blur: I will only use the blur tool once but based on preference, this default blending brush can definitely be used in multiple areas.
4) Blend: My go-to default blending brush for this tutorial. This brush is great at blending and mixing colors evenly to create smooth gradients.
5) Spray: Great for quickly drawing stars. One thing to remember is that the density of the dots/individual pixels grows as the brush size decreases. A larger brush size = smaller and more spread out dots.
6) Soft Airbrush: This default airbrush is great not only for erasing and touching up mistakes, but also for gradually adding in colors and mixing colors as well.
7) Transparent color setting: This isn't a brush, but a color setting. Instead of opting for an eraser brush, I find it easier to keep both texture and consistency in strokes but using this setting. Instead of applying color, the transparent color setting acts as an eraser. I have mine set on the shortcut Ctrl+C (I believe that is the default shortcut).
1) Normal: As the name states, this is the normal default layer setting. Every new layer created will be automatically set as Normal.
2) Overlay: This filter will be used at the very end to lay a texture effect on top of the finished painting without affecting the pigmentation and lighting of the painting.
3) Add (Glow): The Add layers have a brightening effect, but the glow option is more intense. It creates a "glow" effect, especially when using bright colors such as white. We will be using this layer several times to create lighting.
Now that we've gone over the tools that Clip Studio offers that will be used in this tutorial, we can go ahead and get started with the painting process!
Part 1) Base/ Sky
1) The first thing I do is lay out the colors I want to use in the painting. We want to choose colors that are almost complementary (EX: blue and orange, purple and yellow). However, directly complementary colors will look incredibly forced and unnatural. So, for this painting, I chose indigo (purple-blue) and a dull yellow.
2) After choosing the colors, we're going to block in the colors. We want to keep the majority of the painting blue/ purple and keep the yellow/orange at the very bottom as a highlight.
3) After blocking in the colors, we're going to use the Blur tool and blur out all the sharp edges. This will make the blending process faster and smoother.
4) Using the Blend tool, we're going to blend towards the center (Blend the top down and the bottom up). Remember to keep the majority of the canvas the darker blue/purple color.
Part 2) Clouds
Adding clouds will create texture and add depth to the painting. We can achieve this by using the Running Color Edge Watercolor brush. This brush has a soft wispy edge that is perfect for this step in the painting process.
1) Our first step is to map out where we want our lightest area to be. This will be done on a new layer. We're going to use the Running Color Watercolor brush, and gently/lightly map this area out using a color slightly lighter than our base/background color. For this painting, I decided to do a slightly curved line going straight down the center of the canvas.
2) On another new layer, we're going to use the yellow color at the bottom of the canvas to lightly map out the areas where we want to have light shining through. This will eventually be the area that we want to glow.
3) Still using the Running Color watercolor brush, we're going to paint in some clouds using a color a shade or two darker than our base color. What we're going to do is on a new layer, gently paint in the area around the lightened area from the previous step. This will create depth. Notice that the dark clouds to the right of the lighted area are darker and more intense than those to the left. When the glow effect is applied, later on, this will create the illusion that the dark clouds to the right are in the forefront and have light shining from behind them.
4) I went back and added more intensity to the lightened area. I also touched up the darker clouds and blended down the yellow areas at the bottom of the canvas. The purpose of these touch-ups is that we want a sufficient amount of contrast that we can apply a glow effect without it looking forced and out of place, but not so much contrast that the wispy blended effect of the clouds is no longer there.
If we make the contrast too visible, our lighted area loses its shape and clouded effect. We will have to blend this out more (create a larger lighted area than we want).
Another thing to keep an eye on is that the layer with the darker clouds will always stay on top. As you can see, even the add(glow) layers that come afterward, will be below this layer.
5) On a new layer (below the dark clouds layer), we're going to apply our first add (glow) effect. Remember to turn on the add(glow) filter for this layer. Using the Running Color Edge watercolor brush and light purple color, we're going to gently paint around the lighted area from the previous steps. Our purpose in this step is to surround the lighted area in a soft glowing aura. Using a light purple allows the lighted area to better blend into the background and the dark purple clouds around it.
6) Our second add(glow) layer will be a new layer (of course). We are still going to be using the Running Color Edge watercolor brush, but we will be decreasing the size and increasing the density of the brush. Using the same light purple color from the previous step, we are going to paint in slivers of light right in between the dark purple clouds on the right and our lighted area. This (once again) enhances the illusion that the clouds are in the forefront with light shining through from behind it.
7) On the same layer, we're going to use a large Soft airbrush with an almost pink lavender color. This time, instead of restricting ourselves to the area between the lighted area and the dark purple clouds, we are going to gently airbrush the majority of the canvas. Because this layer is below the dark purple clouds, any areas where the clouds are not heavily dense will become lighter. This will create a more natural effect.
8) On a new add(glow) layer, we're going to use the Soft airbrush and white color. The airbrush should be set to a smaller brush size and a higher density. Using a white color will maximize the intensity of the glow effect, as white is the brightest color on the color spectrum. Like in step 6, we're going to paint only in the area between the dark purple clouds on the right and the lighted area.
9) Using the Blend brush, we are going to blend out the area we painted in the previous step. This allows the glow effect to blend out into the other lighted areas without harsh and unnatural edges.
10) Before proceeding to add stars, I did another touchup of the clouds. Using the Running Color Edge watercolor brush on its transparent color setting, I erased and blended out some of the edges on the purple clouds to create a more natural and wispy shape.
Part 3) Stars
1) Our first layer of stars is incredibly subtle. On a normal layer placed right above our base layer and below all our cloud layers, we will use the Spray brush and a light pink-purple color. The Spray brush should be set at its highest brush setting (remember that the larger the brush size, the more spread out the dots [stars] will be). For this layer of stars, we will brush over the entire canvas. This layer will be below all the cloud layers to decrease the visibility and brightness of the stars in this layer. This is because the purpose of this first layer of stars is to create texture and depth.
2) On a new add(glow) layer ABOVE the purple clouds layer, we are going to use the same pink-purple color and the Spray brush. This time, because this layer is above the clouds layers, the stars will be more prominent and bright. Too many stars will be unnatural, so we will be using the brush sparingly, painting only sections of the canvas. We will still need to erase and dim some stars using the Airbrush tool set on its transparent color setting in order to create more natural looking stars.
3) Some stars shine brighter than others, so on a new add(glow) layer, we are going add several individual stars that will be brighter and more prominent than the rest. To do this, we will use the G-Pen brush, and white color to draw small dots/stars sparingly. Notice that the majority of these stars are centered around the lighted area.
Part 4) Canvas Texture (Optional)
Something that I like to do on all my paintings, is adding a grainy texture on top of the canvas. To me, this makes the painting more "real" as the canvas is no longer incredibly and unnaturally smooth. The grainy texture also adds dimension to the painting. Of course, this step is completely optional. Feel free to skip it if you like the smoothness of a digital canvas.
1) the first thing I do is go to the RGB tab. Then I set each value to 100 to get a gray color. This gray color is the most balanced gray color, as it has the same amount of red, green and blue values.
2) On a new layer, I use the fill bucket tool, and fill the entire canvas.
3) On the main menu toolbar, there is an option called Filter. Scroll down to the Draw option and click on the Perlin Noise tab.
4) When this pop-up menu appears, set the scale to 1.00 in order to create the grain effect and click ok to apply the filter.
5) After the filter is applied, your canvas should look like this. The first image is a zoomed-out view, and the second image a zoomed-in view.
6) To use this layer as a texture layer, we will need to set the layer to an Overlay effect.
7) After applying the Overlay effect, your canvas should be heavily texturized. Based on preferences, you may want to adjust the opacity of the texture/overlay layer. Personally, I like to set mine at 50% opacity, as I find that the most natural.
The benefit of using this grainy effect for this particular tutorial/painting is that it emphasizes the stars as the grainy texture itself adds dimension and depth to the painting. In other paintings, the grainy texture can help achieve an antique feeling or effect, and in realistic paintings of humans, for example, the grainy texture can be used to create more realistic and natural-looking skin.
Part 5) Mountains (Optional)
For this painting, because it just so happened that there is leftover space at the bottom of the canvas that feels empty, I decided to add mountains. Of course, this step is once again, optional. You may want to add a cityscape or make this painting the backdrop for another painting.
1) For the simple silhouette of a mountain range, the first thing we're going to do is draw and fill in the first mountain range. We are going to draw this using the G-Pen brush and a dark blue, dark purple, or black color.
2) Then, using the Soft Airbrush tool and its transparent color setting, we are going to lightly erase the mountain range so that only the sharp edges of its peaks are visible. This creates a faded effect and an illusion that the mountain range is far from the viewer.
3) We are going to repeat the previous step, and create several mountain ranges. The number of ranges depends on you and your preferences. Personally, I like sticking to three or four in the background because I find any more than that overwheming to the viewer.
4) We will draw our last mountain range on a new layer. We will keep this one filled in and unfaded to give further depth to the previous mountains. Keeping this mountain unfaded will give the illusion that this mountain is the closest to the viewer and reinforce the idea that the rest are further away.
And there we have it! A starry night sky! Thank you for reading through this tutorial, and don't forget to leave a like and a comment of support! Hope you liked this tutorial and hopefully, I will be back for more!
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Painting night sky background
Introduction: How to Paint a Night Sky Scene
While everyone is at home due to coronavirus, it can get pretty boring. Luckily the problem is getting better. Many people have taken up art to past the time. Painting is a wonderful way to do art and I love acrylic painting the best.
Night scenes are one of the most beautiful things to paint. Using this instructable, you can learn how to paint a simple night scene that looks amazing. Some specific colors are required, but once you learn, you can use all the colors you want. Have fun painting!
Paints (I used acrylics)
- prussian blue
- light purple
- 1-inch brush
- smaller brush
- square canvas (I used an 8" by 8")
- something to paint on and use a a pallet (unless you want paint on your table)
- a water jar
Step 1: Prepare Your Materials
Set up your pallet or surface as shown. Also make sure to fill up your jar halfway with water.
Step 2: Begin to Paint the Sky
To begin painting the sky, take your prussian blue paint, and paint the top quarter of the canvas. Rinse out your brush. Then take your purple paint and color in the next quarter below. Take some time to blend these colors together.
Step 3: Finishing the Sky
After rinsing out your brush again, take the light purple paint and paint the next quarter of the canvas. Blend the two purples together. Rinse out your brush. Now take your white and paint the last quarter of the canvas. Bland well and rinse the brush. Now you have your sky.
Step 4: Let It Dry
Let the Painting dry completely.
Step 5: The Stars
To do the start, first load your little brush with white paint and some water. Take your finger and rub the bristles above the canvas. Paint should flick off the brush onto the canvas. Continue to do this until you are satisfied with your sky.
Step 6: The Moon
Once the white paint is dry, paint a round circle in your sky. This will be your moon. Rinse brush well.
Step 7: The Trees
The trees will curve around your painting. First, draw the tree trunks, making them taller as you get closer to the edges of the canvas. Then take your brush and dab paint onto the trunks. Make sure you make wider dabs the closer you get to the bottom. Rinse out brush.
Step 8: Finishing Details
You can do anything you want. You can make birds, comets, larger stars, etc. But once you are finished, let the painting dry. And your painting is finished. Enjoy your wonderful painting!
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VINCENT VAN GOGH: STARRY NIGHT
Notice the brush strokes. For the sky they swirl, each dab of color rolling with the clouds around the stars and moon. On the cypress tree they bend with the curve of the branches. The whole effect is ethereal and dreamlike. The hills easily roll down into the little village below. In contrast, the town is straight up and down, done with rigid lines that interrupt the flow of the brush strokes. Tiny little trees soften the inflexibility of the town. Bringing nature into the unnaturalness of buildings.
One of the biggest points of interest about this painting is that it came entirely from Van Gogh’s imagination. None of the scenery matches the area surrounding Saint-Paul or the view from his window. As a man who religiously paints what he sees, it’s a remarkable break from Van Gogh’s normal work.
The contrast in styles plays on the natural versus the unnatural, dreams versus reality. Nature could even be attributed to the divine in this work. In Genesis 37:9, Joseph states, “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and behold the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” - predicting that one day his family would bow to him as an authority. Some people associate this quote to the painting. Perhaps it is a reference to Van Gogh’s family, who doubted the success of his career (with the notable exception of his brother). It could be that Van Gogh simply wanted to breathe in the higher power into his art, as he grew up in a religious household. Divide the painting into three parts. The sky is the divine. It is by far the most dreamlike, unreal part of the painting, beyond human comprehension and just out of reach. Go down one level to the cypress, the hills, and the other trees on the ground. They bend and swirl, still soft angles that match the soft swirls of the sky. The last part is the village. The straight lines and sharp angles divide it from the rest of the painting, seemingly separating it from the “heavens” of the sky. However, note the dots of trees rolled through the village, how the spire of the church stretches up to the sky. Van Gogh brings God to the village.
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How to Paint a Night Sky Tips & Night Sky Painting Tutorial
The allure of painting a night sky has been with us ever since the invention of painting. Nature in general has mesmerized artists from the start but there is so much we do not know about the sky and galaxy above us. That therefore, it represents a mystery that has beautiful shifts in light and color combinations. It is almost too beautiful to try to paint!
We can see a preoccupation with painting the night sky throughout the history of art – from realistic depictions to the more abstract. In this article you will find a collection of paintings showcasing various different approaches to help make painting a night sky easy.
You will also find step by step instructions on how to paint a night sky at the bottom of this article. Including color mixing tips and techniques for painting stars into your night sky painting.
How to Paint a Night Sky: Tips & Insights
Flight into Egypt by Adam Elsheimer
This oil on copper painting by Adam Elsheimer is thought to be the very first rendering of the night sky in Renaissance art. This painting depicts Joseph, Mary and Jesus seeking refuge from possible persecution by Herod.
Insights into painting a night sky
The night sky in this painting feels like a natural night sky because the artist balanced the values in the painting so that we could feel the darkness of the sky. In the painting, the landscape and trees are very dark in value. Although the sky is also dark, the landscape is even darker. As a result, the light from the moon creates a glow in the night sky painting.
In addition, we can see the bright stars that are in the dark areas of the sky away from the moon. The viewer is able to see the figures in the landscape because they are lit up in the foreground and are much brighter in contrast to the dark landscape.
One important thing we learn from this painting, is that one must work with dark values a lot when learning how to paint a night sky. While also bringing in light values to the areas of the painting where the stars or moon are painted in.
Frederic Edwin Church – The Meteor of 1860
The American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (of the Hudson River School) painted what he saw in the sky in 1860. What he saw was a ‘spectacular string of fireball meteors cross the Catskill evening sky, an extremely rare earth grazing meteor procession (Nasa.gov)’.
Walt Whitman even wrote a few words about the event in his poem year of meteors 1859 -1860 ‘ “… strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and clear, shooting over our heads”.
Night Sky Painting Insights
This painting is able to make that meteor crossing the sky look so bright and brilliant all because of how he used value and muted colors.
He made sure that the brightest part of the painting would be the meteor itself. Everything else in the painting would be darker so that there would be no ‘competition’ of focus.
In addition to the meteor being the brightest part of the night sky painting, it is also made up of the most saturated colors. Every other area of the painting is made up of more muted colors– which helps for the meteor to stand out even more. Because when a bright saturated color is placed in the middle of muted colors it will inevitably stand out.
Painting a night sky isn’t always just about being able to balance dark values and creating bright areas for stars to shine. Rather, how to paint a night sky is also about balancing muted and saturated colors. You must make sure that you are leading viewers eyes to the bright stars in the sky. If you have bright colors in other areas of your painting – that will detract from your starry sky.
Starry Night by Jean Francois Millet
Van Gogh may very well have been influenced by this painting by Jean Francois Millet when he created his own Starry Night painting. He would have been able to view it in Paris between 1873 – 1875. His admiration of Millet’s work is well known. Fun to think of what paintings inspired some of the most famous creations!
Millet painted this night sky painting shortly after moving to Barbizon – an artist colony south of Paris. It is one of his few paintings that is exclusively a landscape.
Looking at the Starry Night soft edges and varying tonal values
This piece has a wonderful atmospheric quality to it. The artist created a lot of soft edges which help to make the bushes and trees that are silhouetted against the sky to feel like they are further off in the distance.
As well, like the other paintings already mentioned. Millet uses value in such a way so that the painted stars do light up in the sky.
However, he does not just make a dark sky color and then fill it in with bright white dots. Notice how the sky color and tonal value changes as we move from the horizon line to the top of the painting.
At the horizon line we can see a small bit of light. As our eye gradually moves up to the top of the painting the sky grows increasingly darker in value. It also becomes deeper and darker blue in color. As a result we can really experience the night sky painting glow!
Tips on painting stars in a night sky
When painting a night sky, have the sky transition gradually from a very dark upper sky color, to a lighter sky closer to the horizon. Then as you start painting stars into your darker sky color, you do not want to paint all of your stars the same color. Likewise, as you can see in Millet’s painting above, you want to have a variety of different sizes and values of painted stars as well.
Some stars will be larger, brighter and closer, while others will be lighter smaller and further away. You will need to mix some muted white color, that you will use to paint some stars that are smaller and further away. Then use a brighter white color for painting stars that are larger and should appear closer to the viewer.
Unknown Artist – Landscape with Clerks Studying Astronomy and Geometry
Here is a work by an unknown artist. It could very well have been done by multiple unknown artists! It is a very different piece in comparison to the other night sky paintings shown in this article as it is not as naturalistic.
Night Sky Painting Insights
Like many paintings from the earlier part of the Renaissance, this piece uses more symbolism than naturalistic effects.
For example, the stars that we see in the sky have a more illustrative quality with their rays of light. We do not feel the strong effect of a bright star in a dark sky as we do in the Starry Night painting by Millet. As this painting does not use dark and light values to the same effect.
It is a great example of a different kind of night sky painting! One that is more symbolic. For the time that this painting was created in, it truly was a symbol of its time. As the Renaissance marked a time, when scholars looked at the sky through less fearful eyes and they began to openly explore. As a result, there was a surge of discovery in the Sciences and Arts.
How to Paint a Night Sky: Painting Tutorial
So I have shared some night sky paintings and given some insights into how they were painted. Now, I will show you how to paint a night sky with step by step instructions. So that you will be able to paint a night sky for yourself!
First, sketch out your painting of a night sky
Before you get into putting down the color for your painting of a night sky, you want to sketch out the painting on your canvas. Get detailed instructions on how to do this in the how to sketch out your painting article.
Sketching out your painting helps you to know where to put your horizon line and what your landscape will look like. It is not meant to be a detailed drawing but rather a way to figure out your general composition. Doing this step, will also help to make your night sky painting easy to see how things will generally fit in the space.
Begin to add color to paint the night sky
Next, start to paint in the sky. As a rule of thumb make the uppermost part of the sky darker and the lower part of the sky that touches the land a little lighter.
The reason for this is because you want the top part of the sky to appear closer to the viewer – as that is how it is in real life. The lower part of the sky, that is closest to the horizon, is further away from the viewer. So in making it lighter, it will help the lower horizon appear further away.
I also started to paint the land area by mixing together yellow ochre and dioxazine purple (purple helps to mute yellow). To lighten the color up, I mix white in as well.
Colors mixed for the night sky
For the uppermost part of the sky I mixed together ultramarine blue and cadmium orange. The cadmium orange muted the blue so that it would not be too bright. In addition, I also mixed in a little bit of burnt umber.
Painting in the rest of the night sky’s landscape
Land area by horizon line = Lighter
Before returning back to the sky, I paint in the rest of the landscape area. Just like the night sky, you also need to think of how to create a sense of space when you paint in your landscape. The land area closer to the horizon line is lighter in value. Which as we learned earlier, making it lighter helps to make an area appear further away.
Land area closer to bottom of painting = Darker
Land area closer to the front (closer to the bottom part of the painting) needs to be darker. This will help the area feel closer to the viewer.
Colors mixed for the landscape areas
For the colors of the land area I mixed together yellow ochre and dioxazine purple. In the areas that are lighter I mixed in some white. Additionally, I also mixed in alizarin crimson for areas that are warmer and slightly reddish.
For the land area that is at the front (bottom part) of the painting I mixed some ultramarine blue and burnt umber in with the yellow ochre/ dioxazine purple mixture.
Darken the night sky to add more contrast
Now I work at reinforcing the sky by mixing more paint and making the top part of the sky even darker and the horizon area of the sky lighter. This helps to bring more contrast and create a greater sense of space within the sky.
In addition, I add a very large star at the top center of the painting. It is very bright and stands out because the surrounding sky area is dark. So, the strong contrast between the very dark sky and the bright star make it stand out!
Colors mixed for the darker sky portion
In an effort to make the sky even darker I mixed dioxazine purple into my sky – often a night sky can have a purple hint to them. However before adding purple to my sky I muted it with cadmium yellow as well as a little bit of pthalo green. I also painted in some ultramarine blue that was mixed with burnt umber.
How to paint stars in the night sky painting
The painting is now complete! I deepened the sky by making the top part of the sky darker in value. But I also made sure that the sky gradually became lighter as it came closer to the horizon line.
Painting stars with varying size and color
When painting in stars it is important to not just paint white dots everywhere. Some stars are larger and brighter while others are more dim and further away. So, varying the size and brightness is really important. You want to create a sense of space by painting in that spacial variation stars create.
Colors mixed for painting stars
For the stars I mute white a little bit with a small amount of ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow (a very small amount!). In the stars that are brighter I mute them much less and use more white. For some parts of the big bright star I used pure white.
As I paint the sky gradually lighter when moving closer to the horizon line I lighten my color with white. However, I also mute the color a little more by mixing in cadmium orange. Often when adding white to a color it makes it brighter than it needs to be!
Painting a Night Sky final thoughts: Importance of color value & imagination
The most important element in painting a night sky is value. If you are able to create a dark sky and paint in bright stars then you are well on your way! It is very difficult to paint a night sky from observation for obvious reasons – you cannot see your painting while you work.
Therefore it is best to observe a night sky with your eyes and take mental notes. Also, looking at paintings of night time skies can be extremely helpful – like the paintings I showed in this article. Always take advantage of the resources that are at your fingertips!