There is something about a winter sunset that is so peacefully quiet. Not a lonesome quiet, but a quiet that restores the mind from the chaos the day had brought. A quiet that rejuvenates. So let’s learn how to paint a quiet winter sunset as a reminder of how healing a moment can be.
Step 1: This tiny (5 x 7″/ 12.7 x 17.78 cm) painting is going to be done on an Ampersand Pastelbord as a soft pastel with a watercolor underwash. Why Ampersand? Because it can take a wet and dry application without warping. Why a soft pastel with a watercolor underwash? Because pastels are vibrant and if you use a watercolor underwash, not only do you end up using less soft pastels, but you create effortless depth in your painting. So let’s get going! You can do this!!
Using a pastel pencil, draw a road map on your board. Draw a horizon line 1/4th of the way down from the top. Add the main tree and the faint tree in the background. Draw a few lines where you want your clouds in the distance.
Step 2: Using watercolors, lay down a nice yellow sky. Add some blue clouds, but do not touch the yellow as the two colors will blend together if both are wet. And if some of the colors happen to blend, it’s okay because when it’s dry it will be covered with pastels anyway. Using a dark gray color, paint a horizon line for distant trees. This was allowed to blend into the sky, which created a tree-like horizon.
Step 3: Using watercolors, paint some blue and purple splotches on the ground area. Again, we are not concerned with exact colors because most but not all of this will be covered with soft pastels. The goal is to conserve pastels and create depth. Allow this to dry completely.
Step 4: Do not paint unless you know your board is dry. When the board is fully dry, using a dark watercolor (Payne’s gray), paint the trunk of the tree in the mid-ground, and with a thin brush, paint the tree in the background. Let dry. This is the last watercolor step. Next up, soft pastels.
Step 5: Using a light blue soft pastel, paint the top part of the sky, but do not cover the yellow sky completely. Let a little bit of the yellow peek through for a layering effect.
Step 6: With a light peach soft pastel, paint over the yellow in the midsection of the sky. Using a darker peach pastel, color the base of the cloud as a thin line. My lines are a bit hatching in style, but I like the way that looks. You can blend your colors with your finger, or stipple your color, or whatever style you prefer.
Step 7: Using a dark blue soft pastel, color two long horizontal clouds. Don’t worry about how dark this looks, we will layer with a lighter pastel soon.
Step 8: My favorite part…add fire in the sky! Beneath the second dark horizontal cloud, color a thin line of vibrant yellow and two thin lines of vibrant orange around the yellow. Instant sunset! It’s so satisfying to make that in just a few seconds.
Step 9: Using a dark gray/purple pastel, make an area on the horizon for a line of distant trees. They’re so far away, that the tiny up and down lines look like trees.
Step 10: Using a medium blue soft pastel, color the snow in the background. With a light blue pastel (almost white) color the foreground snow but as always, do not cover the entire board. Let some base color show through. This gives it a nice dimension. Using the same light blue, color over some of the dark clouds in the sky.
Step 11: In this step, take a medium blue soft pastel and color over the clouds to give them a bit more dimension.
Step 12: Using a light lavender soft pastel, color some of the foreground snow. Then, using a soft pastel which is almost white, or the lightest color you have, paint the foreground snow and make a couple of highlights in the sky to tie the two sections together.
Step 13 Final: Here is where we add all the details. For this step, my soft pastels were too chunky for details, so I used pastel pencils. Using a black or very dark navy pastel pencil, draw in the distant tree and branches coming from the large tree that hangs down from the top of the board. I also used pastel pencils to draw snow on the large tree and made some shadow colors at the base of both trees.
I hope you enjoyed this free step-by-step tutorial on how to make a quiet winter sunset using pastels with a watercolor underwash.
Have fun painting!