Introduction: Paint a Mountain Sunset (for Beginners)

Acrylic painting is a fun and easy way to introduce yourself to art without investing too much time or money. It is also be an excellent way to relax and the finished products can even be used as decorations or gifts.

I will walk you through step-by-step to paint this picture. Art is highly subjective and everyone has their own style, so taking artistic liberties in your paint color, mountain shape, star pattern, ect. is perfectly fine! It is also acceptable to follow the instructions exactly as they are presented, especially if you are still unsure of the process.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun--whether you enjoy the process, the end result, or (hopefully) both!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

For this project, you will need:
  • A Canvas (or other durable surface, such as thick paper)
  • Acrylic Paints*: yellow, orange, pink, purple, black, and white
  • A Palette (a paper plate works fine)
  • Three Brushes: large and flat, medium and pointed/round, and small and fine
  • Water (to clean off brushes; a ceramic mug or paper cup work best)
  • A Pencil
  • A Toothpick
  • Spray Sealant (optional)
*You are welcome to substitute other colors for yellow, orange, pink, and purple, however they should range from light to dark and be able to blend into each other. This is not recommended for a first painting attempt.

Step 2: Beginning Your Painting

  • With your pencil, draw a faint line between 1/4 and 1/3 up from the bottom of your canvas: this will be your horizon line.
  • Pour some yellow paint on your palette. If it is too thick to spread easily, you may thin it by mixing in a few drops of water.
  • With your large flat brush, apply a thin coat of paint to the middle third of your canvas in arching, side-to-side strokes. It is very important to keep your brush strokes consistently in the same direction for this portion.
  • Fan out the yellow paint until it will spread no farther up or down. It is fine to paint past your pencil line as long as you can still see it.
  • If your first coat is not thick enough, do not panic! Simply add another thin coat once the base coat has completely dried.
  • NOTE: If you are using a canvas, be sure to paint on the sides and onto the back as well! It can be messy on the back, but it will look strange at different angles if you don't take the paint all the way. The above example is my finished painting; it's not pretty, but it doesn't have to be.

Step 3: Add More Colors

  • After your yellow paint has dried, add your orange above the yellow in the same way you did before in side-to-side strokes. This time, you will be blending your orange into the yellow area; be sure to leave at least an inch of pure yellow at the very bottom for our sun! Again, feel free to add more coats as needed.

Step 4: Add Pink

  • After the orange paint dries, do the same with pink. Add as many coats as you need to cover the canvas and blend down into the orange area. As long as it doesn't touch the yellow too much it will look fine.
  • When blending up, however, be sure to leave at least one inch of white space at the top of your canvas. This will be our night sky edge we will start in the next step.

Step 5: Add Purple

Because purple is darker than the other colors, we will be utilizing it a bit differently.

  • Start painting with purple at the top of your canvas and blend down into your pink area. Be careful not to take it too far into the orange or you will end up with a gross, muddy color!
  • Your first coat of purple will probably look patchy and ugly. This is good because it means you are painting in thin layers and your end result will be smooth. Simply be patient and add more layers as it dries until it is thick enough.

Step 6: Last Chance to Blend

  • If the colors in your horizon are still looking blocky, this is your last chance to blend them to your satisfaction!
  • A good tip is to start in the middle and work your way out. As long as you keep your brush strokes in the same direction, blending will be much easier.
  • Remember to use very thin layers! It can be tempting to try globbing on some thick paint for a quick fix, but the end result will not be as nice. Take your time and watch a t.v. show, read a book, or do some exercise in between. Thinner layers will dry faster as well.

Step 7: Outline Your Mountains

Remember the horizon line we drew at the very beginning? We're coming back to that now!

  • The lowest point of your mountains will be at your horizon line; with that it mind, take your pencil and outline where you would like to place them.
    • Don't be afraid to get creative here. There are many different kinds of mountains: tall, sharp, and craggy; low and sloping; rounded and thin; even some gently rolling hills would be fine.
    • This is also a good place to "cover up" some of your painting's problem areas, if you have any. For example the left side of my picture had an issue towards the top, so I made that mountain higher to cover it up.
    • Be sure to leave some yellow peeking through at the base. You can't have a sunset without a sun!
  • On your palette, create a mixture of black and purple paint. This will be the color for our background mountains. My ratio was three parts black to one part purple, but you can create a lighter color for more contrast.
  • With your medium brush, begin painting your outline. Create a silhouette that you like either by precisely following your outline or simply using it as a guide. Don't be afraid of the dark paint!

Step 8: Paint Your Mountains

  • Once your paint outline is complete, it is time to take up your large flat brush again. This time, when you fill in the silhouette, your strokes should be in a more up-and-down motion, following the shape of the mountains, rather than side-to-side like with your horizon.
  • The first coat will look terrible. Remember to take a deep breath and add another coat once the first one is dry. Dark colors take more coats to finish, so if it still isn't looking good, be patient and persistent. It will get there.

Step 9: Paint Foreground Mountains

  • Once your background mountains are finished and dry, take your pencil again and outline some foreground mountains.
    • These mountains can be lower or higher than your background mountains. Again, find a design that you like and run with it.
  • On your palette, put some pure black paint (no mixing) and fill in these mountains. Depending on how much purple you put in your other black paint, your darker mountains may contrast a little (like mine) or a lot.
  • This step will probably not require as many coats as the previous, but at least two coats of paint are recommended.

Step 10: Add Stars and Sealant

The final step is to add stars, as well as any other details you would like to add.

  • Pour a small amount of white paint onto your palette. Because the stars are just small dots, there is no need to thin the paint; however, if you plan on adding larger details, follow the thinning and layering steps previously outlined.
  • With your small brush and/or toothpick, add stars to the purple sky in your horizon.
    • I kept my picture simple and only added a few larger stars, but you can create constellations, shooting stars, twinkling stars, the Milky Way, a space ship, or anything else you would like!
  • Once your painting is 100% dry and done, a clear coat should be applied. Follow the directions on the bottle and, again, coat in thin layers!
  • Lastly, take your pencil and sign your name and date on the back. Congratulations! You just painted a mountain sunset!