Art Effects: Painting Moonlight on an Object or Form

Moonlight is one of the most warming effects you can create in a painting. It beckons one to get closer to the moment your are expressing in your art — a lovely way to shape the emotion of your subject or overall piece of work.

drawing of birds and moonlight

Being an illustrator of children’s books, my strength has always been in creating emotion in the faces and body language of my characters. One of my favorite scenes to paint is that where moonlight falls on my characters or objects.

When you paint a scene with moonlight, it brings you into a different mode of painting. It becomes a still moment, even if active, a moment of strong emotion, even if the characters are restive. In short, it brings drama.

This post will show you two ways to create a moonlight effect in your art. I will be using watercolors but as you can see in the pen & ink image above, the same theory will work with other mediums as well.

For a softer moonlight glow with my prepared composition, my light source will be coming in through the window and laying softly on the bird.

bird and moonlight

I have added dotted lines for where the moonlight will filter through and gently fall upon the bird.

These lines are only for reference, and I have made them darker here to mark where to keep color saturation lighter for the effect to work. I normally keep them very light and erasable since I gently remove them as I work along.

It is very important at this stage to look at the background and the subjects and note the area where you want the moonlight to fall.

Being a subtle glow here, I am going to keep the glow hazy and not overly defined, just like it is when the moon is waxing or waning.

In order to achieve a hazy soft glow, my moonlight is to fall from the window down upon the front or my bird. When the paint is applied, I will ease or blend color saturation into the marked area where the moon glow filters through the window, keeping it blended, soft, uneven and most importantly, light.

painted moonlightFinish your artwork with detailing to differentiate light from shadow to enhance the effect.

blue sky moonlight painting

To create a more defined moonlight, I have have drawn in solid lines where for my demarcation of shadow and light of the moon will filter in the room. These pencil markings should be light and erasable.

sketch of sleeping birdWhen painting, the moonlight area needs to have the same colors as the background and bird, just lighter. This begins the filtering effect.

stars in sky

Work your painting keeping any area you need the moonlight to hit sharply darker to create the contrast.

light shining on bird

More enhancement makes for sharper contrast.

Moonlight glow

Tip: If you are unsure about where to have the moonlight fall, there is plenty of reference online or you can look at your own windows at night to see how it falls in. Another way, which I have used when the shadows and light are more crucial to perfect in a piece, is to set up a makeshift diorama and use a flashlight for effect. You can really nail your effect this way.

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