How To Paint A Lighthouse Sunset

Learn how to paint a beautiful lighthouse sunset with sun rays and a glowing ocean. This is a little bit of an advanced tutorial but there is also a design variation of how to make the lighthouse look like a silhouette instead!

In this painting, I actually used my acrylic paints like water colors. That is why the painting itself looks almost like a water color painting and not an acrylic painting. Can acrylic paints be used as water colors? Yes and no. I first did the painting on a sheet of canvas paper, which worked exactly like water color paper because the water was able to absorb in the paper a bit. Then I repeated the design on canvas.


Using acrylic paint watered down on canvas is tricky. The gesso (what the canvas is primed with) won’t absorb the paint like the paper. So you have to paint flat to avoid the dripping (unless you like that effect, it is trending right now). Also, you have to spread the watered-down-paint out thin to keep it from pooling.

My suggestion if you are doing this tutorial? Follow the steps and don’t use “as much” water to dilute the paint. Or use a sheet of water color paper instead!  If you have water colors on hand, this tutorial can also be adapted to use with those.

If you love lighthouses but find this too hard, I encourage you to still try it! I will most likely be coming out with a simpler design soon so look for that sometime in 2018 .Thanks for viewing and happy painting!


  • Acrylic Paint (I used Apple Barrel Craft Paint for this painting. The other brand I usually recommend is Liquitex Basics.)
  • Paint colors (listed as generic names):
    • Orange
    • Yellow
    • Red
    • Pink (Fuchsia)
    • Black
    • White
    • Brown
    • Navy Blue
    • Primary Blue
    • Light Blue
  • Paintbrushes in multiple sizes
  • 16″x 20″ canvas or smaller if you prefer. Or use a sheet of Water color paper instead if you are doing this like a water color painting!
  • Water container

Directions At A Glance:How to Paint a Lighthouse Sunset


Design Variation

The above is a design alteration! I was hosting a paint night one night and decided to change it up a bit! If you feel inspired by a painting but don’t necessarily want to copy it exactly, try changing the colors and adding new objects! I took the sky in my cityscape fireworks tutorial, added a ship silhouette and made the lighthouse a silhouette as well! It is the exact same composition as the lighthouse above, only different colors.



Step By Step Picture Directions

1. Paint the Composition Out First 

First I painted out the composition of the lighthouse, the hill and the horizon line. To do this, I used watered down navy blue paint and a tiny brush. Note that you can always draw this in pencil first and then go over it with the navy blue paint. You want to make sure that navy blue line is very thin. Anything thick will show up in the finished painting and we don’t want that to happen! The pictures below show the progression of drawing.

The horizon line is 4″ from the bottom of my 16″x20″ canvas. If you’re using a different size canvas, put the horizon line 1/4 from the bottom.


2. Paint The Sky

Then I painted the sky. I started this by creating a “wash”with light sky blue paint. A “wash” is applying water to the canvas first and then adding the paint on the color. When you add the paint, it spreads fast!

Paint a “wash”. Add clear water to the canvas first. Then paint the blue on top. It will spread fast!.
I painted the light blue on almost half the sky.


Then I cleaned off my brush and did another wash below the blue. I painted fushia pink in this area. Also, I overlapped some of the pink over the blue to kind of “blend” the two colors together. 

Overlap that pink on the blue to “mesh” the two colors together.


Then I did another “wash” of orange. Remember, with each “wash” you must apply the water to the canvas first and then apply the paint. The paint will spread fast! I painted orange almost all the way down, leaving about an inch of blank space left. 

Getting paint on the lighthouse is fine! You will be painting over the lighthouse later any way.
Blend the orange with the pink.
Add more pink if necessary! My orange kind of took over so I added more pink on top of the orange.


Next I painted the bottom inch that was blank – yellow. I blended this yellow in with the orange a little by painting that yellow over the orange.      


3. Paint Clouds

Next I painted in the clouds with a 1/2″ flat brush and white paint. Note that you can use any size paint brush for this! The pictures below are a progression of how I did the clouds.

Paint the top bumpy line of the cloud.

Fill in the bottom part of the cloud.
Pull your brush to the right to fade the stroke.
Make sure you clean off the brush with each cloud if your blue, pink and orange are not dry yet.
Repeat with each cloud. Top, bottom and fade away to the right.
Definitely improvise if you need to! If you have your own style of clouds, do that style!

I also painted very translucent horizontal line clouds in the sky. Make your white very watered down to do this. You will see this show up better in the next picture!

4. Paint The Sun

Next I painted a solid white line on the horizon line and just a little above into the yellow. You want this to be the brightest part of the sky because that is where the sun is! I also painted a small half circle right in the middle of the horizon line. That half circle was also solid white.

Note the translucent horizontal white lines in the sky also representing clouds.
Half circle…more like a quarter of a circle…for the sun!


5. Paint The Rays

To paint the sun rays I used very very watered down white to make the line look translucent. Each ray is just one stroke of very translucent white!


6. Paint The Lighthouse White

Next I painted in that lighthouse. First I painted the lighthouse in solid white to cover up any of the sunset paint marks that I got on it. Also, my white covered up any of the navy blue line that was left. I used a flat brush for this to make sure my line on the edge was as crisp as possible! Also, if you’re using craft paint (like I was) make sure you go over the white with several coats if this white is not as opaque.


7. Paint The Shadow Of The Lighthouse

There is a very distinct shadow on this lighthouse and it is on the left side. I painted the shadow in with a solid coat of navy blue paint. Note the shape of the shadow and where it curves in the middle. 

Note the shape of the shadow before I did any blending. This is just a solid coat of navy blue.

There are a couple ways you can blend the shadow. You can use a wet brush to fade the blue into the white. You can pull the navy blue paint to the white until it fades away. You can add layers of translucent white over the navy blue. Or you mix your colors on your palette (mix navy blue with white) and then apply the paint. Just make sure that your line stays darkest on the far left and fades to get lighter on the right!

how to paint a lighthouse
Blend the shadow until it fades into white.
And if all else fails, improvise! You can always paint over the lighthouse white again and redo the shadow if needed!


8. Paint The Lighthouse Top

I used a tiny brush to paint the top of the lighthouse red. Leave the windows blank for now. 

Solid coat of red paint for the top of the lighthouse.

For the shadow of the red area, I used navy blue paint. 


9. Paint The Lighthouse Windows

The windows were painted in solid navy blue. 



10. Paint The Ocean

Next I painted the ocean water. To do this,I did a “wash” of bright blue (primary blue). Paint the ocean with clear water first and then add the blue. I started from the bottom of the canvas up to the horizon line so my blue would get lighter as it gets up. Don’t worry about the reflection and water texture yet.

Paint of “wash” of solid blue.

Start the “wash” from the bottom to the horizon line so the blue gets lighter in the distance.

Then I let the blue dry!

12. Paint The Reflections

The trick with painting water with acrylic is to add layers of horizontal strokes or very condensed “zig-zag” strokes. The color of the horizontal strokes are the same color of the sky because the water is a reflection of the sky. So…first I added horizontal white strokes just under the sun. Yes, these strokes were kind of translucent but can be opaque as well.

Horizontal white lines just under the sun.

Then I added more horizontal strokes of white in the foreground (bottom). These were brighter and more opaque.

Horizontal strokes in the foreground.

Then I added horizontal strokes of pink!

Horizontal pink strokes.
Yellow horizontal strokes.

Then I added horizontal layers of yellow strokes. Be careful with the yellow! The yellow that I was using was not an opaque yellow, it was translucent. This made it kind of turn green when it was applied on top of the blue.

Then I added another layer of horizontal white strokes. This was just under the sun because that is the brightest reflection of the water. 

You can leave this as is. Or keep going with layers of more colors!  I decided to add more blue because I wanted my ocean to look darker and more “water texture”. So I went in and added more horizontal blue strokes. I probably could have added more pink and orange too. Just keep adding your layers until you like the way your ocean looks!


13. Paint The Rock

Then I painted the hill. The first step was applying a “wash” of brown paint. My strokes went in an “arc” line.

For the dark areas of the hill, I painted navy blue. 

Dark areas of navy blue.


Then I made the area just behind and under the lighthouse even darker by using black. Keep this black translucent by watering it down.

Then I added white to my brush that already had black in it. This will turn the white gray. I painted the right side of the hill and some of the area toward the bottom.

White paint for the wave hitting the hill!

I cleaned off my brush entirely and added white. Then I painted some “waves” on the bottom of the hill to make it look like they are crashing into the hill.

14. Paint The Windows

For the windows, I painted four diagonal black lines that were parallel to the angle of the lighthouse line. The lines got slightly shorter the higher they got.

Then I painted a gray (white mixed with black) stroke next to the black line. 

Finally, my final touch was making the lighthouse appear as though the lights were shining! I did this the same was as I did the sun rays. Make a very very very translucent white. Paint a triangular shape coming out of the lighthouse from the window on the right and left.

I also went in and added more yellow into the water just below the sun.

Paint the light coming from the windows. Add more yellow on the water just under the sun.


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