How to Paint a Watercolor Sunset: A Step-By-Step Tutorial

Sunsets are as pretty as a picture. So how do you make them pretty in your pictures?

Drying watercolor sunset in painting

Illustrations and photos via CakeSpy

Learning how to paint a sunset with watercolors is easy, fun and rewarding. You can create a dazzling, multi-hued watercolor wash that mimics the vibrant colors of a sunset with minimal supplies.

This easy-to-follow tutorial will show you how to paint a watercolor sunset simply and efficiently. You’ll be painting beautiful sunsets in no time!

Once you’ve mastered this easy tutorial, you can tailor the process and colors to your liking to create truly spectacular skies in your artwork, whether you’re creating a collage or a watercolor painting of a landscape.

Sunset painting Materials

How to paint a watercolor sunset


  • Watercolor paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (can be from a tube/cake or mixed by hand)
  • Water
  • Round paintbrush in a size manageable to you
  • A second brush for cleaning up or brushing over areas with water (optional)
  • Paper
  • Paper towels for drying brushes
  • Scrap paper for testing colors (optional)

Step 1:

Get your supplies in place. You’ll want to have everything on hand so that you can proceed without any pauses to grab supplies. Grab the painting on which you’ll be painting a sunset.

Step 2:

Decide where you want to start: violet or red.

Author’s note: I find that it’s easiest to work in color order, but it doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum you start on. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will guide using red as the starting color.

Step 3:

Start by painting a line of red. You can paint it horizontally, or align the painting vertically if you find it easier to “draw” up and down with the paintbrush. If you have not used masking fluid, give the areas that you don’t want to cover a fairly wide berth. If desired, you can “test” the consistency of your paint on a nearby scrap of paper.

start with red on a sunset

Step 4:

Clean your brush to wash off the red, and dry it with a paper towel. Then, paint a line of orange directly adjacent to the red, very slightly touching it. The paint will begin to bleed; that is OK. If it bleeds too much, you can clean your brush (or use a second brush) to delicately graze over the area with water to smooth out the bleeding.

If you prefer the colors more separate, give each color a few moments to lightly dry before adding the next color. On the opposite note, if it doesn’t bleed enough, you can clean your brush, add some water, and gently “smudge” (technical term, there) the painting so that the colors combine to your liking.

Sunset colors drying
Note: As you work, the “bleed” might look messy or blotchy between colors. This can actually work as an asset in the finished piece, adding an irregular and natural-looking feel to the sunset.

Step 5:

Continue with the remaining colors until you’ve added all of the colors of the rainbow. You can paint evenly sized lines of each color, or you can paint thicker lines of the more famous sunset colors: red, orange, yellow. Or you can give it a nighttime look by augmenting the violet portion.

Get creative!

Once you’ve mastered a simple sunset in watercolor wash, you can get creative with your colors. You can adjust the ratio of the colors you use, add a splash of red in the violet portion or paint clouds on top. Sunsets are like snowflakes: no two are alike!

Here is the entire process of painting a sunset, step-by-step in images:

Sunset in watercolor

More tips for painting watercolor sunsets

Want to paint a sunrise?

You’re already educated on it once you master this tutorial! It’s just a different ratio of the colors. Accent the colors at the horizon to a greater degree to create a sunrise, and make the darker colors higher up in the sky and put less emphasis on them.

Masking elements

Are you painting a sunset on a watercolor piece with other elements that you don’t want to accidentally paint over? You can apply masking fluid to the portions of the painting you don’t want your sunset colors to tint. Check out these tips on how to use masking fluid. Or, you can paint around such elements like in the tutorial.


Sunsets can be painted on a piece of watercolor paper or bristol board and then can be used as the backdrop for a collage piece:
Sunset collage

What advice do you have for painting a sunset with watercolor?

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