Sunset Clouds
Watercolor Painting Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Watercolor Painting Tutorial

I always see the best paintings in the worst painting light. These storm clouds were right at the edge of sunset, when the light was almost gone. I took photos and scribbled notes quickly before the rain hit.

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting tutorial

Painting Tutorial Level


Skill Building

Painting Skies

Art Supplies

9" x 12"
Arches Rough Press

Isabey Mop, no.6


M. Graham watercolors

Quinacridone Red
Nickel Azo Yellow
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Cobalt Teal
Cobalt Violet
Quinacridone Rust

Painting Demonstration 1

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

I begin with a wash of the far background colors. I will layer the next washes over this so I want this to be pale and a bit subtle. The drama comes later!

The tricky part of this wash is avoiding green mixing as much as possible.

Sunset Clouds Reference Photo
Sunset Clouds Reference Photo

Painting Demonstration 2

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

Now for some deep, clear blues. I will still be layering over these, but I want hints of the blue sky to show through the storm front.

Painting Demonstration 3

Sunset Clouds Painting Tutorial 3

I've let the painting dry a little. Now I can begin layering.

I want the left cloud to be dark and threatening, so I'm using a rich mix of cobalt violet and ultramarine blue. I'll build this up in several washes.

Artist Tips

Build up in distinct layers to add to the atmospheric effect.
Sunset Clouds watercolor painting tutorial by Jennifer Branch

Painting Demonstration 4

Sunset Clouds Painting Tutorial 4

The right cloud is much softer than the left cloud, forming a lovely frame for the glowing sky. I blue the edges and use the same pigments, much lighter.

Painting Demonstration 5

Sunset Clouds Painting Tutorial 5

I bleed in quinacridone rust, beginning with the distant tree line across the lake. I also deepen and dull the storm cloud with quinacridone rust.

Painting Demonstration 6

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting Tutorial 6

I've added some dashes of cobalt teal in the mix, a lovely chalky sky blue.

Keep the edges of the clouds either wispy or soft. Mind your edges!

Painting Demonstration 7

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting Tutorial 7

Now it's really starting to come together. The left cloud is receding into the distance with the flat darks on the bottom edge. Small wispy clouds stretch to the distant horizon. And just a little drybrush detail at a few edges really rounds the clouds out.

Sunset Clouds Watercolor Painting demonstration

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Sunset Clouds Final Watercolor Painting!

I finished by adding more strong darks to the lake and distant tree line. The lake is rather tricky in this one. Too dark or too light is distracting, but the reflections are actually quite brightly contrasting. But you have to pick an area of focus and I chose the sky and dramatic clouds.

I love summer storms. Their brief tumultuous downpours and the cool crisp air afterwards.

This painting captures the storm and you can see that clear sky beyond the storm clouds, giving hope to a cool night.

I hope this inspires you to paint a sunset tonight!

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