Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three faces of a sunset - pastel

After photographing some recent and particularly pretty sunsets lately, I was inspired to paint some.  The skies here, and subsequently, the sunsets, are so varied that nothing ever looks the same or even close to the same when I go out. 

These paintings show radically different perspectives of a sunset, based on location and type of cloud.  There is the high-drama, high-chroma sky in the west where the sun sets.  These are the real attention grabbers and fun to paint due to the use of bright, saturated reds, oranges and yellows.  An eastern sunset sky gives a more muted presentation:  pinks, purples and blues, but beautiful all the same. 

The cloud type is of course what gives the sunset its character - thinner, diffuse cloud layers transmit the rays of the sun, transforming them into color.  Cumulus are lower, dense clouds of small droplets absorb little and reflect more.  Mid-level clouds, such as altocumulus, can surprise or disappoint, depending upon their location relative to the setting sun. 

The first two paintings are based on photos taken at the same location on the same evening.  The last one was based on one of the photos I took this past Saturday, also at the same location south of town on Swan Rd. 

"Cirrostratus Sunset" - 12 x 9"
pastel on Colourfix paper with black underpainting.
After taking the photo, I see some adjustments that can be made.  As before, the surface of this paper was a challenge and made the painting time-consuming.  It looks grainy and a bit stiff in the photo, but I do like the way the colors turned out.  First chance I had to use the MV sunset colors I purchased last month! 

"Cirrus Sunset to the East" - 12 x 9
pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, smooth side
I completed this study relatively quickly last night.  Inital layer is blended into the paper and clouds scumbled lightly on top.  It doesn't translate so well in the photo; the colors aren't quite so saturated or the cloud edges so rough. 

"Cumulus to the East" - 11 x 9"
pastel on 320-grit sandpaper using alcohol wash underpainmting
$85 ppd, ready-to-frame
The alcohol wash was quite effective in this painting, allowing me to get the well-defined edges of the various layers of cloud seen here.

I look forward to doing more sunset paintings, and definitely plan on doing larger size paintings once I'm back to CT. 


  1. Great job, I particularly like the top one. It's hard to do a dramatic sunset in a painting medium, but you've done it well.
    What kind of magic do you use to be able to get layers on Canson? Wow.
    What are the "MV sunset colors"?

  2. Thanks! Believe it or not, the first one was my first attempt at such a high-chroma sunset. I wasn't so sure it translated okay; there are things about it I do and don't like. Part of the issue is that it's on Colourfix, which I have decided I do not like.

    I will contact you re the MV (Mt. Vision) colors I bought for these sunsets.


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