Marie Marfia, Winter Sunset Surprise, soft pastel on sanded paper, 8x10"

Winter Sunset Surprise

Sunsets are tricky. They’re beautiful to watch, but capturing them on paper is a different story.

I was scrolling through my photos references and a sunset picture caught my eye. I liked the dark clouds overhead, the band of yellow orange on the horizon and the dark lake with waves rolling in. But sunsets can be frustrating to paint. The colors you think ought to be there somehow don’t look right on the paper. However, I’d just learned a way of figuring out colors using the eyedropper tool and a color wheel in Photoshop, so I thought I’d try it and see what happened.

The first surprise was the little bit of sky peaking out on the left side of the piece. When I sampled it with the eyedropper tool, the color wheel showed a yellow green. Normally I would put an aqua in there, something more blue than green. The second surprise was the water. It registered as a dark reddish blue. I would have used a blue trending towards yellow there. Hmm. The third surprise was in the heart of the sun. That showed up on the color wheel as a bluish yellow, not a reddish yellow as I would have guessed. All of a sudden, this potential painting was not just another sunset. It was an experiment, and I was eager to see what would develop.

Winter Sunset Surprise time-lapse

I used a warm alcohol wash underpainting–red, orange and yellow–to start with. Then I blocked in whatever caught my eye, without thinking too much about what I was doing or where I would end up. I was careful to use the colors I discovered in the color wheel, however. When I got to the water I went back to my dark red to put in the waves and was very happy with the result. It all meshes together pretty beautifully I think. Sweet!

Marie Marfia, Winter Sunset Surprise, soft pastel on sanded paper, 8x10".
Winter Sunset Surprise, soft pastel on sanded paper with warm underpainting, 8×10″. $800.

On another subject, what do you think about a pastel class that is all about sunsets? Should we all paint the same sunset? Or each do a different one? Is a 3-hour class long enough to finish or should it be more than one session? Leave your comments and let me know what you think!

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