How to Paint Unusual Sunsets

Avoiding Cliché to Create Fantastic Paintings 

By Alina Bradford

Sunsets are a popular subject that has almost become a cliché. The trick to painting fantastic sunsets is adding that something extra that makes the sunset unusual or interesting. These ideas will help the artist move past the traditional sunset to make their paintings shine with originality.

Hint at Sunset 

Orange Fall by Alina Bradford
Orange Fall by Alina Bradford

Who says that a painting of a sunset has to include the sunset? The subject of The Orange Fall (12×12 Digital Pastel), left, is a sunset even though the viewer can’t see the sunset directly. This is achieved by using light, mood, and color warmth and values to hint at the fact that there is a sunset happing right in front of the scene in the painting.

Use Black 

Black isn’t a color usually associated with a sunset, but it can be used to create drama in a painting that may otherwise be boring.

Oklahoma paintingFor example, the painting in the example is okay, but, it could use some pop to make it interesting. The second image is the painting after black was added. Now the painting has a lot more drama and interest.

To achieve this look, the black is added where the darkest shadows are. Instead of making the shadow a darker hue of the original color, the area is painted black. This Sunset Paintinggives the painting an almost woodcut print look.

Go With the Unusual 

Using unusual colors can make a sunset seem fresh and unexpected. An artist’s pallet shouldn’t be governed just by what he sees in front of him, but by his emotions as well.

tree drawingIn the example to the left, the sunset is painted with neon versions of typical sunset colors. This gives the sunset a happy, playful feeling. The use of darker, more somber colors such as reddish brown and rust orange would be an example of going to the other extreme in color choice, as shown in Example Five. Both are unexpected, which takes the painting to another level.

Add Props 

Normally, sunsets are just sunsets, unless you add props. Props are objects that add to the story of the painting. 

These subjects can be considered as examples of sunset props:
Kites in the foreground

  • Trees
  • Storm clouds and lightning 
  • Planes 
  • Boat sails 
  • Birds 
  • Towers or buildings in the foreground 

Sunset paintings don’t have to be boring or plain. These tips can add life to any work.