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Nature Art: Sunsets - Explore

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Nature Art: Sunsets

It's not easy to paint an ocean sunset. If you paint it as you see it--all the pinks and the golds, the water reflections, maybe that tropical green flash--it often looks lurid. But you can use these colors in another way: you can paint imaginary sunsets. If you use the same sunset shapes each time--the long, thin rectangle for the water, and the half-circle for the sun--you can focus on pure color without worrying about composition. Think of it as painting variations on a sunset theme.

For the sunsets shown here, I used only transparent watercolors, no opaques or granulating colors, because I wanted each color to drift over and change whatever colors lay underneath. I listed the colors I used on the lower left corner of this photo, below:

My first page of sunsets looked stiff. Lots of hard edges, little blending of color between the sun and the sea; I needed to use more water. On the page above, my second page, I have one very stiff sunset (top left) but a little gem on the middle right.

My method became: Paint the ocean rectangle and the sun circle with clear water. Use a damp brush to pick up lots of the color for the water. Paint the water, adding other saturated colors. Finally, paint the sun shape. If you use New Gamboge yellow in the sun, as I did here, the pigment flows outward on wet paper with wonderful force, spreading into the sea and pushing other pigments before it.

I kept painting these little variations, page after page, and I didn't look up until twilight had fallen. In the photo below, you can see that my colors changed as the light dimmed, although I didn't realize it at the time:

To give this a try yourself, all you need is a watercolor paintbrush, a sheet of watercolor paper, and a few tubes of paint. I loved the quickness of this exercise, because you can move right on to the next sunset if the last didn't work out. And who knows--you may paint a little gem.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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