Capturing mood



60 min

What you need:

Soft pastel crayons
There’s nothing quite like the intoxicating effect of a sunset over the water. In this project, you’ll learn how to capture the romantic mood of a water scene bathed in the golden glow of sunset.

Step 1

Start by dividing the sky from the water—this is the horizon line. Then lightly sketch the contrasting shapes of dark and light in the sky and water. At this point, don’t  focus on details at all, but on the big division of light and dark across the whole landscape.

Step 2

Using soft pastels, mass in the darkest darks of the beach using side strokes and alternating between burnt umber and cold grey VI. Then mass in the clouds and waves with sky blue soft pastel, using a light touch. Where the waves become thinner use the tip of your pastel to create a thin, linear stroke. Be sure to alternate the direction of your side strokes to give more solidity to the masses.

Step 3

Use a cadmium orange pastel to mass in the colour of the sky where it is engulfed in warm light. Allow your orange strokes to skip over the face of the water around the light source as well. This creates harmony between the sky and water. Add cold grey II to the top layer of the sky and water to fill the atmosphere. Then add a few dark accents to the clouds and waves with a cobalt blue to anchor the dark values.

Step 4

Add strokes of dark chrome yellow to the sky and water, beginning a slow gradation of value toward the light source. Then add cadmium yellow strokes to the sky and water for the warm glow of the sun. Also add a very light cadmium yellow highlight for the sun. Allow your orange strokes to drag lightly over the blue water and sand, increasing the sunlit glow through the scene. Notice how the strong use of the complementary colours blue and orange stimulates the eye.

Step 5

Use your fingers or a very soft brush to begin blending the surface lightly, fusing and melting together your strokes. Make vertical movements with a brush, allowing it to overlap the sky, clouds, water, and beach. Blending gives an overall diffused look to the scene, softening edges and creating the desired atmosphere.

Step 6

Now it’s time to push the colour intensity. Add more cobalt blue to the clouds and waves to complement the bright oranges. Use an orange glaze at the edge of the cloud where the sunlight is breaking through. Then add scarlet red to the beach to indicate the glow of light. It’s okay to overdo the colour some because you can always mute it down later. Don’t be afraid to use bright, strong colours—now is the time!

Step 7

Continue building the colours of the scene, adding more pinks and violets on the water and clouds, deep saturated red around the beach, and bright orange flicks of light at the top edge of the clouds to indicate light bursting out. Keep the shapes of the clouds by painting the negative space of the sky around them with light yellow ochre strokes, as well as greenish notes. Overlap the edges of the sky and clouds for a painterly effect. The cooler blue, violet, and green are a nice counterpoint to the warm reds, oranges, and yellows, creating a visual glow of light that resonates against the cooler tones.

Step 8

During the final stage, allow your eye to move around the entire scene, evaluating the overall relationships of colour and value, as well as the hardness and softness of edges. You may need to soften areas that are too sharp with a little blending, such as the transition between the sky and sea or the lower edge where the cloud meets the orange sky. Also freshen up the highlights on the water. Add a bit more pink and violets where passages of cloud and water seem to glow from the sun’s rays. Then sharpen up the crisp highlights at the top of the cloud where the light bursts over the edge. Add a little more punch of deep navy to the darkest darks for added contrast. Once you’re happy with your scene, place your signature on the work.

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Excerpt from “Pastel Basics,” published by Walter Foster Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. All rights reserved. Walter Foster is a registered trademark. Artwork © Alain Picard. Visit