Chasing Sunlight: How to Paint a Sunset in Acrylic

There’s nothing quite like the awe-inspiring beauty of a sunset. You’ve probably snapped some photos of a particularly enchanting sunset, but perhaps you feel intimidated by capturing it in a painting. If that’s the case, not to worry!

Learn how to create a sunset acrylic painting in this easy-to-follow tutorial.

Learn how to create a sunset acrylic painting in this easy-to-follow tutorial.

Here, I’ll show you step by step how to create a sunset acrylic painting.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Acrylic paint — warm colors like reds, yellows and oranges, as well as blues and/or purples
  • Paint brushes — both large and small (for big and tiny details)
  • Canvas or paper prepared with acrylic matte medium
  • Photograph of a sunset

Make sure you’re using acrylic paint — it’s easy to use, cleans up in no time, and thins out when mixed with water.

Step 1: Draw your sunset in pencil

acrylic sunset painting supplies

First, draw your composition before making any brushstrokes. Using a pencil, lightly draw the big shapes in your landscape. Mine features a low tree line with a bright sun and billowing clouds.

If you’re new to acrylic painting, I recommend selecting a scene that doesn’t include water so you can focus mainly on your sky.

Step 2: Paint first layer of color

sunset acrylic painting, glazing technique sunset acrylic painting glazing detail

For this scene we’re going to use a glazing technique, which allows us to build up color gradually and evoke a sense of airiness and light.

Begin by mixing a reddish-orange color and painting it over the sky. Since the sun is just about to disappear, the horizon is full of yellows, oranges and reds.

Add water to your pigment so that it’s half water, half pigment (maybe less). Then spread a thin wash on your paper or canvas. Wait for it to dry before moving on.

Step 3: Apply thin layers of pigment to build up color

sunset acrylic painting glazing sunset acrylic painting glazing (detail)

After the initial layer of paint is dry, you’ll repeat this process of mixing pigment and applying it to your canvas.

Make sure you’re adding water to each color so that it’s somewhat translucent and some of the previous layer of color peaks through. This technique gives your painting a sense of visual depth that can’t be achieved with thicker paint applications.

Start with warm colors — like yellows, reds and oranges — then assess what other colors you see. In my reference photos there’s a lot of blues and purples. I started my color progression with reddish-purple and eventually worked up to a bluish-purple. Deep blue was the darkest color in my twilight sky.

Step 4: Add your accents

sunset acrylic painting (detail)

If you can see your sun in the picture, chances are it’s a bright, fiery orb. We’ll abandon the glazing method here, and use a thick glob of paint to represent the hot star.

In addition to your sun, apply the same thick paint consistency to other areas you want to stand out — like the edges of clouds. 

Step 5: Finish with the horizon line

sunset acrylic painting silhouette sunset acrylic painting silhouette detail

All this time we’ve concentrated on the sky, but we can’t forget about the horizon line!

Because the sun is setting in front of the horizon, the backside of it is silhouetted. Similar to your sun, apply a solid layer of pigment to block in this bold shape.

finished sunset acrylic painting

Voilà! Your sunset acrylic painting is complete. 

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