Sunset Palms Composition and Watercolor Art

Bring some drama into your life with this quick and easy sunset palm painting with birds to bring it to life! No special equipment is needed to achieve this look – create a dramatic setting sun with just a few strokes and with the flick of the wrist paint the palm fronds – this one is really good fun!

Here’s a lovely challenge for today, one you’ve probably done before, but it’s such a striking image it’s worth repeating! “A Tropical Palm Tree Silhouetted Against a Sunset Sky”! Now if this doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and catch a plane to somewhere exotic I don’t know what will! You can have fun with this one laying in a loose wet in wet background with whatever hot colours you have – I used a magenta, alizarin, cadmium red and orange, and once it’s dry I did the palm with Meeden’s black – it’s a nice, opaque black which works really well with a rigger brush. I enjoyed doing this one this morning and hope you have a go – I used a piece of sketch paper, nothing special, and found the colors showed up better than on a second one I tried on watercolor paper – if you want a subtle look the watercolor paper is best, if you’re going for drama just do it on sketch paper!

Talking about Composition

How do you decide what to paint and how to put it on the paper? What secret is it that the experienced artist has which enables them to create an eye-catching image which you don’t feel able to come up with yourself? Why does nobody share the techniques which if only you could learn them, would solve all your compositional problems?

It’s probably best not to spend too much time worrying about these questions, because I don’t think there are any satisfactory answers. But I have one or two thoughts about the whole issue which have been uppermost in my mind recently. I can share those with you now.

Firstly, the beginning artist absolutely needs to forget about portraying the thing they see before them. If you want to make an accurate representation of something you can see, take a photo. There is absolutely no excuse in this day and age for not taking a photo. And in my opinion there is no excuse for hyperrealistic art. I have never been able to see the point in portraying realistically things you could easily photograph. Yes, Vermeer and Rembrandt needed to be able to depict the hairs on a peach and the reflection on a pearl, because there was no such thing as photography and people wanted to remember how things looked when they were not in front of them. But Picasso realised early in his life, after mastering the art of realism as a teenager, that there was no real meaning in it. He turned therefore to the development of the art of abstraction and brought new life into the galleries of the world.

This doesn’t mean of course that what is in front of you shouldn’t inspire you and set you off on a painting journey. I sit and look at an oak tree from my desk every day, and occasionally I paint a tree, looking at my oak for inspiration, but I never, absolutely never, paint what is in front of me. I paint “essence of tree” or “green” or in the winter “essence of oak in line” but I never paint the tree before me.

The next thought regarding composition is what pleases you. It helps if you can develop a sense of what you like. Balance. Shape. Colour. Tone. Detail. Space. Do you like your paintings to be symmetrical in some sense, or to be leaning one way or another? Do you like rounded shapes, or sharp corners, or a mixture? Do you lean towards bright colours, or dull, muted ones? Light or dark? Detailed or simplified? Loose or tightly controlled (tight does not equal realistic by the way!) Do you value the presence of empty space in your painting or do you prefer to have every inch covered in paint or line? Considering these elements will make you into a better painter.

This painting was done in a spontaneous way and mostly for fun. The composition is based on the huge, unrealistic sun-like circle of yellow behind the palm. The values are strong and the contrast maximal. The shapes are sharp and eye catching. It might not appeal to everyone as art, but there’s no denying it captures the mood of a tropical sunset. Take a look at the video and see how I developed this painting and give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised at what you learn going through this process with me!

The materials for this painting were the Viviva pan set which you can find here: Viviva Colors and the Meeden watercolor set which is here:


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