How Do You Paint Moonlight? 7 Night Painting Tips

Where does your imagination go when you look up at the moon, particularly a full moon? It is magical, yet not reachable. When you were a kid (or even now), did you look up at the moon and dream? Were you awestruck?

Moonlight has attracted and fascinated artists of all genres since the beginning of time. It is the opposite of daylight which reveals all and can be chaotic. Whereas the night is peaceful and soothing, yet holds the unknown and a world of uncertainty.

"Moon Passages," 24x30 oil, $1575.00 Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013

“Moon Passages,” 24×30 oil, $1575.00
Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013

Have you ever attempted to paint the haunting yet compelling moon?

It’s not a matter of talent – you’ve painted wonderful paintings of other subjects. But now, you go back to the well to paint a night scene and you are not satisfied with the results.
This happens to the best of us. Let me explain to you how I have tackled the challenging subject of moonlight. There are some interesting color tips that may surprise you.

1.  First and foremost, go out and spend some time with the moon in any of its phases. If possible, find a quiet place with as little city ambient light as is feasible. Grab and lounge chair, lean back and ‘be’ with the moon. 

Taking photos of the moon is a tricky business and I do not recommend you start there. You need a good camera, tripod, patience and photographing knowledge. If you are not a professional photographer, you will learn that night photos are not satisfactory; they do not begin to tell the story of how the moon looks up there in the heavens.

Before you drop off to sleep or dreamland in your comfy chair, take note of the various colors surrounding the moon, the subtle gradations of blues, purples, grays, etc. Look beyond the moon, to the left and right. Where do the warm and cool colors come into play? How does the moonlight reflect on the landscape or water below it? If clouds are drifting through, continue your observations of the whites, yellows and blue-grays, etc..

Spending time in the dark will give you a more convincing record of those mysterious moments of darkness and light of which few are aware. As you know, the more you know your subject, the better the painting will flow and the more convinced your viewers will be.

Take notes and then schedule time to paint out under the moonlit sky. Your equipment for plein air night painting is the same as for daylight, however you may want to add a miner’s light to wear on your head. These can be found in camping stores.

2. A color secret=>  Begin with an under painting of reds. Because the sky undulates and I do not like plain solid colors, I use a variety of cool to warm reds. A greater color vibration occurs in a moonlit painting when you juxtapose warm colors (reds) with cool colors (blues) as opposed to using complementary colors.

The underpainting

The underpainting

3. When painting a night scene, you will be working with values that are very close together, hence it is important to see them correctly (one of the reasons for spending that time pondering the nocturnal sky in that lounge chair). Begin with your middle values first before adding the darker or lighter values. It also helps to begin with a limited palette of colors.

Notice how the red underpainting provides depth

Notice how the red underpainting provides depth

4. In my moonscape “Moon Passages,” notice that the sky is not as dark as you might expect it to be. It need not be a near pitch-black to convey that nocturnal sky. Also, when hanging in someone’s home or office, your painting will be viewed in the daylight and it will appear much darker and duller.

Cropped image of full moon

Cropped image of full moon


5.  Painting tip =>The moon is warmer at the bottom and cooler at the top because there is more atmosphere below it.

6. Create a slight halo around the moon after your sky has dried. This will help it to glow. This is an excellent time to use your more transparent white.

7. NEVER, Never use black in your moonscape paintings! Mix your darks because they have more character, interest and depth. By the way, black is never found on my palette. Tube black is flat and dull. It also does not bring any color harmony in to my paintings, which important to me.

Enjoy exploring the mysteries of the nocturnal sky. The more time you spend with it and making that physical and spiritual connection with the nocturnal world, the easier the painting will come.

To see more of my moonscapes or to purchase them, just click on of the images and you will go to my website.

"Moon Window" - 14x18 oil Carol A. McIntyre

“Moon Window” – 14×18 oil, SOLD
Carol A. McIntyre (c)2012



"Lunar Glow," 16 x 20 oil, $695.00 Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013

“Lunar Glow,” 16 x 20 oil, $695.00
Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013


"As the Sun Rises," 24x48 oil, $2535.00 Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013

“As the Sun Rises,” 24×48 oil, $2535.00
Carol A. McIntyre (c)2013

Are you not itching to interpret the intrigue and mystery of the night with your paints? When will you venture out to paint the moon?


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