Painting The Horizon

Horizons, sunsets, sunrises, and beach scenes are some of the most beautiful artwork around. They are also some of the most difficult to paint. When painting the horizon, there are a number of things to keep in mind, not the least of which is the subject matter. Which horizon are you going to paint? Will it be the dramatic play of light and shadow on the coast at Bossiney Haven, or the horizon behind the turbulent waves you would see at the Bude Surf School in Cornwall? Here are some ideas for inspiration, and some techniques to make your horizon painting more successful.


Action Paintings

You may think that capturing something that normally is living and moving in a painting is impossible. That, however, is not the case. Spend a day at the beach with a surfing school, photographing the surfers, paddle boarders, kayakers, and you will get a feel for the muscle movements, angles, and lighting from each of these activities. Even if you elect to not include a human figure in the horizon painting, you will find great inspiration in the backgrounds of the shots, and even gain some insight into the interaction of waves and sunlight.

Horizon Lines

One of the biggest mistakes beginning painters make is in the horizon line itself. The horizon is ALWAYS straight. You simply must use a straight-edge to draw your horizon line, and that should be either slightly above or slightly below center of the canvas. If you wish to draw attention to the sky in your painting, draw the horizon line in the lower section of the canvas. The lower you draw it, the more dramatic the sky will be.

Conversely, if you want to stress details in the foreground, such as a pebbly beach or an intricate play of foam in the shallows, you’ll want to draw the horizon line in the upper half of the canvas. As before, the further up you draw the horizon, the more dramatic your painting will be.

Even if the focus is the horizon line itself, it still needs to be slightly above or below center. That is just good conformation.

Use of Tone


To create a sense of depth in your painting, use lighter tones of paint on the more distant parts of the landscape. A sunset will have the lightest tones right at the point of setting. To create a sense of an over-looming sky at sunset, paint with increasingly dark colors toward the top of the canvas. It will be the same for the bottom of the canvas, where the foreground fades into the horizon. Darker colors should be at the bottom of the canvas, progressing to more “washed out” colors toward the back.

Add Blue

In addition to a lighter tone, it seems that adding a little blue to distant parts of the scenery will create a sense of depth. We perceive more blues in distant views, so adding blues to the hues in the background will create depth.

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