How to paint a starry sky

Written by laura lemay
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How to paint a starry sky
Let a painting capture the beauty and majesty of a night sky filled with stars. (night sky image by Sergey Galushko from

Paint a starry sky by using glaze and spatter techniques with oil paints. While this project is easy to accomplish, your results will probably generate lots of applause. Start by adding a thin coat of titanium white or any colour of your preference to the canvas. Too much white will cloudy your glaze. Prepare a glaze of deep midnight blue. Alternatively, skip the first coat of paint and add glaze directly to the canvas. Add trees or animals in outline, or use Vija Celmins' "Starry Night 12" as a stunning guide.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 12-by-16-inch prepared canvas
  • Titanium white oil paint
  • Parisian blue oil paint
  • Egyptian blue oil paint
  • Zirconium cerulean oil paint
  • Indanthrone blue oil paint
  • Liquid black oil paint
  • Lemon yellow oil paint
  • Burnt umber oil paint
  • Lapis lazuli oil paint
  • 2-inch hake hog bristle brush, for thin application of titanium white or other colour
  • Soft sable brush
  • No. 10 flat bristle brush
  • No. 2 rigger brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Newspaper or paper towels
  • Paint cups

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  1. 1

    Prepare a glaze of one or many blue colours, such as Parisian blue and French ultramarine, along with a glaze of liquid black. Depending on your taste, paint the sky midnight or twilight blue. Avoid using too much black. A tiny amount deepens blue colours to perfection.

  2. 2

    Paint the glaze onto a completely dry canvas. If using a base colour, such as titanium white to pick up brilliant white stars, the paint must be firmly dry to the touch and not sticky. Using a dark glaze over pale colours picks up light needed in the night sky. Always use a soft brush and a light hand to apply glaze.

  3. 3

    Cover any parts of the painting you don't want to spatter with paper towels.

  4. 4

    Saturate a large and stiff-bristled brush, such as a No. 10 flat bristle brush or oil toothbrush, in lemon yellow paint or a mixture of lemon yellow, burnt umber and titanium white. Keep a small amount of medium close to your paint to thin the mixture if desired

  5. 5

    Precisely target where the spatter should hit the canvas. Practice the technique if you've never tried it before on an old canvas or paper. Use wrist movements to snap the brush in the direction you'd like the paint to travel. Don't use your entire arm or you'll splatter paint in the work area.

  6. 6

    Soak a large brush, such as a No. 10 flat bristle brush, in paint thinner. Then, using a controlled wrist motion, snap the brush into the midnight blue glaze. Author Liz Wagstaff recommends using lapis lazuli blue and tiny amounts of gold in her starry sky example published in "Paint Recipes: A Step By Step Guide To Colors and Finishes For the Home."

Tips and warnings

  • Glazing is considered a wet technique in oil painting. Start by using a dollop of paint thinned with medium. You're looking for a consistency like water paint.
  • Since thinned paint has a tendency to run, keep the canvas flat on a covered table. Glazed oil paints provide transparency to the night sky. Glazing also tones down or darkens colours. When employing an underpainting technique, glazing enhances texture.
  • A variation of the spattering technique involves using a thinner, such as white spirit, rather than paint. Thinner lifts tiny spots of glaze to reveal titanium white or the white of your canvas. Try using a contrasting colour under the glaze, such as a white-yellow mix, for an interesting result. Don't allow the paint to dry for this variation.
  • Cover your table and work area when using a spatter technique. Practice of this method makes perfect.

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