View Full Version : Which colors for night sky?

10-05-2009, 06:00 AM
Hello all,

I am looking for recommendations which colors and mixtures can be used to achieve a realistic-looking night sky. Around midnight when it is already totally dark, and in clear weather conditions. I know that possibilities are almost unlimited, still I would appreciate some insight on what has worked in your paintings and what hasn't.

In the old days, I once used pure ultramarine blue... which of course looked horrible, much too high in chroma.


P.S. I might add that I paint in oil or acryic.

Brad M.
10-05-2009, 09:55 AM
It would be a mistake to use another artist's formula, or any formula for that matter.
Go out at night when it's "already totally dark, and in clear weather conditions." and really look.
What colors do you see? How would you mix them on your palette? Is the landscape lighter or darker than the sky? Do a mental painting while you are looking.
Your own observation is the best recommendation.

10-05-2009, 01:17 PM
Brad, probably the right answer but just the one I did not want to hear... :)

I am the world's worst color mixer - reason is that I started painting with acrylics. Acrylic colors dry so fast that it is not even worth producing any more complex mixes that I would not be able to recreate. Therefor, I never did anything but 2-color mixes. All the more muted colors were missing from my paintings, because they mostly require 3 components. Now if I see a color in natur - mostly much more muted than any color from a tube - I have no idea how to possibly create that on my palette.

I guess I need to start making some color charts. However I am afraid by doing color charts I will have my new expensive artist grade oil colors empty before I even start making paintings :confused: Also all "easy" color charts are just 2-color mixes, and do not give me any experience how to grey down a color, or how to darken a color without changing hue, etc...


10-05-2009, 01:36 PM
Hi Marigold,

I did a Google Search asking "what colors to paint nocturne sky" and I came up with this great site, it has pictures and examples of the palette...

By helping you, I learned something too, you asked a great question. I am going to bookmark it. Good Luck!


Here is Van Goghs' nighttime paintings with palette-good site--


I think colors in a night scene are not so important as what is dark and what is light, you could paint a night scene using black and white and grey, it's the placement of the values that's important...

Maybe someone more experienced will come along to help you.

10-05-2009, 06:20 PM
Dove, great sites! Thanks for posting. Quite interesting.


10-05-2009, 10:19 PM
Hi Dove,

thanks for the links. Seems that I did not find anything because I coudn't think of a clever search term like "nocturnal". Don't think this is helping much though - a "palette" of colors isolated from a digital picture still does not tell me how to recreate those same colors in pigments.


10-06-2009, 10:34 AM
Hello Susanne
First of all, being the "worlds worst color mixer" is a title many new artists give themselves. Time cures that, and practice. It doesn't come naturally to many people, but with time, we all get better at it.

Also, acrylic or oils, you can still mix colors. There are newer acrylics with longer drying times, and mediums you can add that extend the 'liquid' stage of them. You can also achieve different looks in acrylics by putting washes over a base color. Oils & acrylics are different tho, so don't expect ultramarine blue in acrylics & oils to match identically! They are different substances, so will reflect color differently.

Brad makes a very good point, that how you perceive the night sky is important - because that is what you want to convey in your painting.

You may want to check out on this website, the Virtual Palette. It may help you to "find" your color mix. (Home - MemberServices - ContentAreas - Tools - etc....) Click on "Tools", one of the choices you will see is "Virtual Palette". I also recommend any books you can find on Color Theory.

Hope this is helpful. - Nan

Deborah Secor
10-06-2009, 12:09 PM
I'd steal some ideas from Rick Reinert:


Or from Marc Hanson:

And take a look at some of the work in Michael Chesley Johnson's article here: http://www.artistsnetwork.com/article/plein-air-nocturnes/ (page down--it's there!) and an article on Marc's blog: http://marchanson.blogspot.com/2008/11/day-to-night.html

I happen to be teaching a class on painting the night this week, so I had these at my fingertips.


10-06-2009, 12:17 PM
Interesting post - I've seen very few nightscapes around here (there was last month's Challenge, however), but these are good examples.

10-07-2009, 10:34 AM
Try ultramarine blue darkened with an amount of burnt sienna. Mix the Sienna into the blue a bit at a time. Put it on paper and let it dry. If too light add a bit of white or yellow, if to gray more blue, if too blue more sienna . Let it dry each time. Use a hair dryer if in a hurry. Its not hard, just practice. You will have to make a lot of sow's ears before you get your first silk purse.

10-07-2009, 11:48 AM
I find it useful to paint the canvas black first then paint using lighter colors that reflect against the night sky.

10-07-2009, 01:46 PM
I agree about the ultramarine/burnt sienna, or also prussian blue, a very dk. strong blue. add a touch of yellow (for greenish tint) or red (purple) for more depth of color. add white until you reach your desired tone.

I think capturing night time is more about your values and over all color scheme, there is much more to capturing the feeling of a midnight sky than just painting the right sky color. You can paint a hundred different 'midnight' blues, but if you don't have the correct color scheme in your foreground the sky will look 'wrong'.

look at the previous post w/Marc Hanson's painting, it is not a very dark blue, yet the values are all subdued--because at night there is no light to reflect on objects and create more vivid palette, think of colors you'd choose at noon--vibrant, distinct--
night is more grey, and less distinct from value to value. He used a purple/grey tone over all the painting to give it a cohesive night time feeling. He probably started with the purple gray tone, a wash over the entire canvas, then painted the sky color on top, letting the purple show through. and also letting it show in the trees/foliage. just a guess. I like the way he uses a warm, comlpimentary green in the foliage for balance.

In the other painting, with city lights, the artist is using dark purple and a deep grey green (in the buildings and foliage) to create the 'glow' of the lights. (he probably mixed his purple w/the green to muddy it up) by surrounding light w/complimentary colors you can make those lights really pop. if you look close you can see the green is muted and the purple on the low horizon is muted/muddied as well, grayed down a bit.

also w/van gogh's night paintings, there's a lot of gray throughout and similar colors in sky and foreground--even w/the yellow paintings, lots of gray. great site!

10-07-2009, 04:48 PM
Here is an excellent blog post about the color of night.


10-08-2009, 01:01 PM
Prussian blue makes a good night sky.

The color charts are a GREAT idea! they help in so many ways.

Switch to Golden Open Acrylics, or oils and that will stop your fast drying time problem. Start with a limited palette, and expand from there so you don't drop a fortune on paint.

Just my 2c worth,