Sunset Photos Part 2: More Mauve!

Last month, I began painting some of my old photos, and realized all the ones I wanted to paint were sunsets! I was a little disappointed with my results, largely because I kept insisting on using Ultramarine Blue in the more violet clouds, which kept them very electric-bright when they should have been mauve. So, I decided to paint some more, different sunset photos, with a special effort to keep the mauve clouds muted.

The Paintings

Lofi Sunset

I’m extremely happy with how this one turned out; it really feels like I took the lessons from my last post to heart!

  • I took what I liked from the photo and nixed the rest. I made it into something different instead of being too beholden to it. For example, in the photo, I am in love with the sky but don’t care about the buildings or cars. I did include power lines and trees to give a sense of urban winter, and that minimalist level of detail was evocative enough!
  • The two-layer method allowed me a good balance of soft-to-crisp in the clouds. The first layer, I just did a gradient of the yellow/coral/pink, and in the second layer, I glazed on the mauve with gaps to form the highlights of the clouds.
  • I used Lanaquarelle paper, which is slow-drying and great for skies.
  • I improved my colors.

Specific color notes:

  • I used much more muted, smooth colors in the clouds. The mauve clouds are a mix of DV Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone & WN Phthalo Turquoise.
  • This was also a proof-of-concept of using Naples Yellow Deep as the yellow in the bright part of the sunset, along with my usual Quin Coral/Quin Rose, and I think it worked extremely well! It by no means looks muted, it’s super vivid yet it isn’t garish and cold-looking as cool-to-middle yellows can be.
  • HO Payne’s Gray worked well for the silhouettes offering me enough smooth range to add some grayscale detail.

Inspirational Poster

I painted this at the same time as the painting above, loosely using the same reference photo. This better represents what the first layer looked like, since I didn’t as much of a mauve cloud layer. The end result feels more trite to me (it reminds me of the “if you love something, set it free” inspirational poster hanging in my church secretary’s office when I was a kid). I suppose I didn’t pull it back with enough muted color. Still, I like this sunset quite a bit more than those I have done with other colors. Naples Yellow, Quin Rose, Quin Coral, and Phthalo Blue RS is proving a powerhouse sunset combo.

Porter Square

I used largely the same reference photo as above for the sunset, and additional external references to paint “Gift of the Wind,” a windmill sculpture by Susumu Shingu outside Porter Square Station in Cambridge, MA. This time, I experimented with making the mauve mix much darker, which resulted in an overall moody, stormy look. Even though the background yellow/coral/pink mix is the same, the sky overall gives a redder impression due to the grayer cloud mix on top.

I don’t personally like this as much as the more cheerful and calm sunsets above, but it’s interesting.

September Sunset

A contemporary photo! I took this and then painted it the next day. I like this photo (I put it on my Unsplash!), so I’ll just do a loved & learned for the painting.

Colors: DV Quin Red (PR209), HO Phthalo Blue RS (PB15), WN Naples Yellow Deep (PBr24), HO Quin Magenta (PR122), DV Cerulean (PB36), HO Payne’s Gray


  • Overall I think it’s a really lovely splashy painting, it gives a nice general impression.
  • Gradients are nice – the way the violet turns to yellow, and the way the yellow turns to peach.
  • Cloud mauves, largely from Cerulean + Quin Coral/Quin Magenta.
  • Tree silhouettes.


  • Not enough pink!! Could have put more pink on the first layer, instead of trying to glaze it on later. Also, could have used PV19 rose. It seemed the most expendable color considering I also have PR209 and PR122 in my palette, and those two make a really similar hue when mixed, but somehow I never end up putting as much pink as I want in my paintings when I don’t use Quin Rose.
  • Could have planned out where the gradient would start moving from purple to yellow; I didn’t plan it out so it crept up too high.
  • The main cloud could have been more crisp/wet-on-dry.
  • Undecided on Cerulean as a cloud blue. There is something kinda magical about it, but it also has some of the same problems as Ultramarine. Could perhaps have blended it more to keep it from being too bright.


I think my sunsets are going in a really good direction! I like these a lot more than my last set. I’ve known, intellectually, for ages that muted colors are needed to set off brights and create balance, but I never really took it to heart. While creating the brightest colors has been my mission generally, I’m really falling in love with muted mauve!

1 thought on “Sunset Photos Part 2: More Mauve!”

  1. I was going to ask whether you had a post planned to talk about your favourite sunset paint colours so thank you for delivering! They really do make for beautiful sky scenes! I often make last minute decisions instead of getting to know my colours and how they will work together. I appreciate your reflections on what you learnt!

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