How to Paint a Reflection of a Sunset

Sunset image by Tomas Vrba from

Things You'll Need

  • Yellow, white and orange paints
  • Thin paintbrush
  • Broad, flat brush

Painting water is a complex task that is affected by light, surroundings and depth. Painting a realistic reflection of the sunset on a body of water is a trial-and-error procedure that requires large amounts of concentration, observation and and understanding of how water reflects light depending on clarity and surrounding objects. As you improve your skills painting reflections, you will gain a deeper understanding of what makes a realistic painting and how to further improve the look of your sunset paintings.

Shallow Water

Mix yellows and oranges into white paint to create more intense highlights. This can make the painted reflection appear as realistic and bright as the original reflection.

Use quick brushstrokes from side to side with a thin brush.

Drag the paint from darker objects energetically and quickly into lighter areas. Clean the brush, then drag the paint back from the lighter areas to the darker areas.

Create bright highlights from ripples in dark areas, and paint small dark streaks in lighter areas.

Use complementary hues and warm colors against cool colors to improve the glow of the reflection.

Gradate the colors of the reflected images in the background from lighter, cooler colors to darker in the foreground.

Keep the colors of the water warmer in tone as it is affected by rocks, sand and algae.

Deep Water

Use a larger flat brush to create broader brushwork across the surface of the water.

Stroke the brush across the water slowly to create softer edges. This will show a smother surface and reflect immediate surroundings and the color of the sky.

Give deep ocean water a darker, black-blue color.

Paint water that is closer to the viewer a darker color than the water in the distance.


  • Rivers and streams are more green in color. Blue-green colors tend to get darker and decrease in value as the water gets deeper.


  • Don't paint the reflection with only white, yellow or orange. Mix the colors to enhance depth and create a more realistic reflection.


About the Author

Megan Kelly started writing professionally in 2007 when she was published in the anthology, "Lit Kids: Mama Bird and the Electric Rabbit" through Mill City Press. She is also a submissions reviewer and grant writer for "Spout Press," an independent magazine in Minneapolis. Kelly is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Minnesota.

Photo Credits