Acrylic Painting, Southwest Sunset | Maria Morris | Skillshare

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Acrylic Painting, Southwest Sunset

teacher avatar Maria Morris, Awaken to Color

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (37m)
    • 1. Welcome, Sunset Acrylic Painting

    • 2. Buy Vibrant Supplies

    • 3. Prepare Your Photos

    • 4. TracingVideo

    • 5. Mix Vibrant Colors

    • 6. Demo A, Sunset

    • 7. Demo B, Sunset

    • 8. Use a Value Scale

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About This Class

Learn how to paint a southwest sunset from a specially edited photograph (provided) and acrylic paint on canvas — as vibrantly as possible! We’ll use my 5-step, no-fail process, so you’ll finish the class with a painting you’ll be excited about. 

Step 1: Prepare your photo

Step 2: Canvas Prep (hint: tracing!)

Step 3: Transparent Underlayer

Step 4: Opaques

Step 5: Brushwork and Detail

I'm Maria Morris and I paint landscapes, portraits and florals from my Kansas City studio and sell prints on Etsy.


What if I can’t draw? In addition to giving you the photo references, I show you how to trace the lines on your canvas so you can get to the fun part faster.

How do I get such bright colors? I share my color mixing secrets and favorite paints with you!

Keep scrolling for a link to my Supplies, Color Guide printable and the Photo References you can download.





  • Endless, super-bright color combinations from only 6 colors
  • Easy color theory lesson


  • Filtered photo references included
  • Tutorial on editing your own photos so painting them is easy


  • Narrated demo (edited and engaging)
  • Palette views


  • fc31d4cf.jpg

    This class is welcome for everyone! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, you’ll paint with more vibrancy and accuracy.

    Enjoy painting this beautiful image with my transparent to opaque technique that takes the guess-work out.

    After taking this class, you’ll have everything you need to paint a gorgeous canvas using your own photograph!

    See Resources Section for >>>> supply list and photo references


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Maria Morris

Awaken to Color


After 20 years of portrait painting, I am now an acrylic painter of all things colorful — landscapes and florals primarily. I paint full time and license my prints through Greenbox Art + Culture.

I'll teach you to paint with pure, vibrant colors. I offer fun, easy-to-follow classes that follow my 5-step process.

I also enjoy encouraging others to dig deeper into their creativity and refine their painting skills. Many of my students have rediscovered their calling to create beautiful artwork that not only nourishes their souls but blesses others too.

To see my latest works, follow me in Instagram or visit my website! You can also shop prints in my Etsy Shop.

See full profile

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1. Welcome, Sunset Acrylic Painting: Hi, I'm Maria Morris. Welcome to my class today we're going to be painting in acrylics as bright as possible. A sunset that it's kind of a southwestern sunset. It actually is because I went to Albuquerque couple of years ago to the tomato resort, very fancy with my husband and spork. And I was a little bit discouraged that weekend cause some, you know, things and opportunities with my art and fallen through. And I didn't know what the Lord would want me to do. And I was being dramatic. And then I lost my Apple Pencil and that was another drama. And so I just decided to leave the conference and walk outside right in the nick of time for the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. I mean, there's a reason that artists from all time have wanted to live in New Mexico. Colors upon colors and all my favorites, pinks and peaches and corals and purple said, reflecting off of the Sandia Mountains. And the Sandia is watermelon in Spanish, and so they look like melon when the sunset reflected off of the mountains was amazing. So I take some pictures and then I painted it. And then now I want to teach you how to paint it. And in this class I'm going to go over a bunch of stuff that I go over and every class. So if you need to skip to the demo, feel free. Don't skip the last video though it's a new encouragement. And first of all, I'm going to go over my supplies because I don't have too many paints like I paint very minimalist, stick with the colors, but the paints I use a very specific, they're not just any old acrylics out of the tube if you want to paint bright and translucent away idea. I show you how to prepare the photo even though I will provide for you the original photo that I took and the filtered photo, I tell you how I filter the photos a little bit cation. Wanna do it with your own and two minutes on how I transfer the drawing outlines of the photo reference onto my canvas so that I can see the lines as I go. I then have a video on how I mix my colors. I have some downloads and the references for you to download our attachments that are in the Projects and Resources section. You have kinda have to scroll around, especially if you're on mobile to find those. If you have any questions, go in the discussion area and let me know, then we'll go in the demo so that you can know how to paint this yourself and then you'll know how to paint some sets the brightest way possible. Seriously, I claim that as a fact that my way is the brightest, most of vibrant colors possible. So encouragement at the very end, and more encouragement motivation on our website because I'm a free course for artists. So many, many, many course. You do it all in one sitting or in four days. It just gets you motivated in every way that an artist needs get motivated. And then it has a fun little project if you want to do at the end, lots of exciting stuff. Visit my website, Maria Morris,, sign up for that free course and you'll get lots of support and encouragement. Okay, let's get started on supply. 2. Buy Vibrant Supplies: Part of the success I guarantee in my classes involves really vibrant colors. And I use not too many colors, but very specific colors that are listed in your About section. And even links to Amazon. Or we can take a little trip to the Michel's. So at Michael's I just get the cheap artist's loft brushes because brushes are best when they're new and why not just replace cheap ones every once in awhile? I like the flats, either an inch or half-inch. Don't buy brushes that are too small. You want big brush strokes for impact and for beauty. And then let me introduce you to liquid techs, soft body acrylics, also known as acrylic gouache, white cap, black cap, doesn't matter. They flow, they're beautiful colors there, semi-transparent. But then for more transparent, I use golden fluid acrylics, not just because they're transparent, but because they are vibrant. I use acrylic wash white, titanium white, and I use heavy body acrylics, titanium white at the very end of the painting to really punch out those weights. I don't really use heavy body acrylics in any other circumstance. These are the colors, very simple. You only need a feud and buy more if you want an experiment. But in the next video, I'll show you how to mix these colors so that they create every amazing color you ever did watts. And that's my English for the day. The next thing you just need is some gesso, any color, I mean, any brand. And I do that just to smooth out the canvas because I don't like the texture showing through from my prints. And then I trace either with graphite transfer paper and a printout, just the basic lines so that I have a guide on my painting. Or more often actually use my tracer projector. And I just print out small trace it onto my canvas in a dark room. That's why I'm not showing you, because it's gotta be dark. And I might spray it with some acrylic spray so that, you know, it doesn't smear while I'm painting. But sometimes I just don't know. All I want to know is what are the basic lines so I don't lose my way or make something terribly out of proportion. And next, if you bought two and this isn't necessary, but you could premix some colors so that the painting process is easier for you in one of these palettes that has the little one outs wells with lids. And I'll show you the mixing combinations in the next video. But you could just mix it up in the little well, dip in there as you go or not. You could just, you could also mix as you go. So I will mix the two brands, whether it's golden fluid acrylic or liquid tech soft body together to create some of my colors. Because believe me, with trial and error and buying all the wrong colors, I have figured it out for you as far as what are the brightest color combinations, but I'm also going to show you how to neutralize and darken these colors too, because not everything should be too bright. You gotta have some contrast with neutrals and darks. So let's go on to that next video, which is the color mixing. And I will show you the magic. 3. Prepare Your Photos: A good color mixing lesson is going to talk about the color wheel. Now if you already know the color wheel from kindergarten, I am not trying to insult your intelligence. We're just going over it because in painting you got to know it like the back your hand. So we've got the primaries, which is yellow, red, and blue. We've got the secondaries, which is green, orange, and purple. And I'm just mixing my brightest green with cadmium yellow and fallow blue. I always rinse and dry my brush in-between switching colors, especially if they are not analogous. Here, I'm making a kind of a neutral orange with my cadmium yellow and my quinacridone magenta. Next I'm grabbing my quinacridone magenta with a little bit of fallow blue to make a pretty purple, but they're kinda neutral. They need as an apparel and soft body acrylic fluorescent P can low liquid techs. I am addicted to fluorescent pink because it's not just being it's pink. You can make brighter oranges with it. Now look at how so good. Sometimes you want the neutrally orange that you made with the, with the magenta and sometimes you want the bright orange. It also makes a very bright purple. It's a warmer purple. So I start with the fluorescent pink and add a little bit of phthalo blue. And that's even brighter. And here I'm making the whole gamut of warms, which starts with the cadmium yellow, next with the fluorescent pink. And a little bit of credo magenta, you can even make a really bright red with these three colors. Next we are going with cool colors. The quinacridone magenta is a pretty cool red. So I start with that, make my purple again, clean my brush between switching colors and then go from my phthalo blue to my turquoise to create just beautiful, warm, I mean, cool to warm, cool tones that made any sense at all. Okay, how vibrant they are. And then if I add a little bit of white, you can see the tints that they create. And as you'll see in my process, with the demo coming up next, I start transparent and then I work more opaque. So I start dark to light, transparent to opaque. And you can see how beautifully these blend in to the most pure colors. But we don't always want the pure colors. Sometimes we need neutral, sometimes we need darks. And so you don't add black, never add black. What we do is we add opposites. So that's why you got to know like back your hand that the opposite of green is red. If you want to darken parts of your tree, you've got some red in there, and vice versa. If you want to darken the parts of your apple, you gotta put a little bit of green in there. And it doesn't just dark in it, it neutralizes it because they were opposites. Purple versus yellow to other opposites on the color wheel. And I just create my own purple. But if you want to eat by docs designed violet, that's fine too. And do you see how a little bit of purple on my brush mixed with that yellow makes just the prettiest. Deep yellow. Next is orange versus blue. And I mix my own orange, add a touch of yellow, blue. Yellow blue is so potent you will add too much of it so easily. But you see how that darkens up the orange nicely, creates a beautiful brown. Now, this will come naturally to you the more you paints, all right, and the more you look at my demo videos. So don't worry about memorizing all this. Watch the video a few times and just paint, paint, paint. All right, see you in the demo video. 4. TracingVideo: Welcome to two minutes on how to get the image onto your CAN this and we trace because tracings easy. The first thing that you want to do is just o your Canvas, smooths out the texture of the canvas and makes everything go on nicer. For the technique number one, which is the tracer projector, you are going to want to print out the photo about 3.53 inches. And kinda just use an app to control how big it is if you don't know how to use Photoshop. And the app I use is called image size. You can find it in the App Store. And you open that app and you find your photo. And then you just print it. And it prints onto an 8.5 by 11 sheet, but small, just 3.5 inches big. And that is what I use with the trace or projector and the tracer projector you can find in my resources section. After we've printed that and stuck it in the projector, we just kinda need the room to be darker and we need to focus it, get the size right, get the, make sure that it's at a perpendicular angle so you don't have any keystone or skilling. And I only really draw very lightly with pencil, the silhouettes, and that is the tracer projector technique. The second technique is with graphite paper, and it's a little messier, so I don't use it. Also, you can't really go very big with it because the size of the printout is going to be the size of your canvas. So I printed it out bigger. And I put the graphite transfer paper down, face down on the canvas. But I do prefer the projector method. And you can use my projector or you can try one of the digital kinds from Prisma. But that is how I do it. All right, let's go on to the next video. 5. Mix Vibrant Colors: I rely on photo references for my paintings that sometimes photographs have too much information. Do you know what I mean? So what I do is I get filters on my photographs that break it down and make it look like a painting. And I can do that either with Photoshop or with my iPhone. So in Photoshop I just take the photo, go under Image Adjustment, posterize, and then I'm posterize it at about a level, four or three or five or whatever it looks right to you. And what that does is it eliminates unnecessary detail, breaks down the shapes and brightens the colors. Now another fun way to do that is with some iPhone apps. Specifically, I start with Pixar. Pixar, we'll break it down to even look like a painting. So you open the Pixar app and then you find your photograph. You go under effects and you choose geode. It's the guy with the beard. Now after you, it has processed, you can adjust the fade slider bar so that it is just dry. It just breaks down the values. So I like what it does with the values, but I don't like what it does with the color. So I take that same photograph that I edited and Pixar and I bring it into Prisma, another app, photo editing app. And in the Prisma app I find the effect called friend Japan's. It has the white flowers. And when that processes, it turns out really simplified, really RGB bright. But it helps me, especially with that first transparent layer of my painting. So if you have your own photograph that you'd like to paint with my style. This is how I edit my photos. 6. Demo A, Sunset: Now that you have your Canvas just sowed and dried and your line-drawing on your Canvas. We are ready to paint this beautiful landscape of some photos that I took when I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a couple of years ago. And the Sunset was stunning. I mean, this photo of these photos don't do it justice. It was jaw dropping. So I've set up my studio and I have everything orderly and pleasant with lots of natural light. And then I am ready for step number one, which is to put down my transparent underlayer with golden fluid acrylics, cadmium yellow, liquid tech soft body, fluorescent pink, and couldn't cried own magenta, which is also a golden fruit acrylic. And what I do is I make my yellows warmer, as warm as I want to, not by using a cad yellow deep, but by mixing it with a little bit of my paint. And I'm painting the place on the sky that is so yellow and beautiful below the clouds and above the horizon. And then just wherever the lightest lights are, I'm going to put some yellow down. And next I warm that up with some orange. I already have yellow in my brush side. Just add some pink and little bit of the retard or gel to make it flow easier and extend it and make it a little transparent. And I'm just laying those shapes right on top where I see the orange, oranges in the clouds. Now this layer is fun because it's bright and beautiful and easy to cover your canvas. But it also just helps me to block out the shapes and make kind of a map so I can make my way around the painting easier as I go. Now. I am going to make a neutral purple and I haven't taught neutrals a whole lot. They happen kinda naturally as you go on in your painting with blending and also with dirty palette situations. Neutrals are great because they make the brights really saying. But what I'm doing is I already have yellow on my brush. I'm grabbing some pink a little bit or retard or gel and the teeny, teeny tiniest bit of turquoise. Because we know if you know it from my other videos, my favorite is purple, is fluorescent pink plus a tiny bit of turquoise. Okay, but I want it neutral. So if you noticed, I said that I had yellow on my brush. Yellow plus my little purple neutralizes the purple. Because the opposite on the color wheel of purple. And opposites make things more neutral, less bright and intense. So what I ended up with was kind of a plum color. It's a very warm purple. I paint my shapes right next to the orange because that's what I see in the photo reference. This is sped up, but I do like to paint this quickly. I don't want my paint to dry because I do like the wetness to blend in a little bit, although blending with a ton of brushstrokes just creates mud and it's not, you don't see the beautiful brushstrokes. So what I'm doing is I'm cleaning my brush, drawing it and making my pure purple, which like I said is my fluorescent pink, a little bit of white and teeny-tiny bit of turquoise. And I'm putting that pure purple right next to the pump. So I'm creating a warm to cool kind of a rainbow blend. And it looks really beautiful this way. And then I noticed in my photo reference there are some really deep reds that I didn't get. And my favorite red is my own red. So you can buy, you can buy pyrrole red. They're good, but they're not transparent enough for me. And so I make my own red with my fluorescent pink, which I am addicted to, and some yellow and I can darken it with magenta if I want to. So with a little bit less water on my brush and a little bit more pigment, I can put down and just really punch out the red reds. So to make a color more intense, dry or semi dry, brush and load it with color. So I clean off my brush, grab some yellow, and in the same way, my brush isn't very wet. And I've loaded it with color. And then I can actually just put wet on wet some of the yellows that I see in the highlights of the clouds. So while I'm painting some warms, I'm going to make a really warm like pee green or it's like a yellow ocher with the tiniest bit of green in it. So I have yellow that I added a tiny bit of turquoise to. And neutralized with the reds. So either either one of my reds, my pink, or magenta. So if you have a green that's too bright and you remember the color wheel, then you're going to want to add the opposite of green, which is red in the grass. I see It's like a yellow ocher but with a tins of green. And as you can see, I've got in the background a really dark green, a nice bright ish green, that yellow ocher that I just made, That's kind of greenish and then just a nice dark eggplant color. So I'm showing you how I'm making all these. Grab a little bit of turquoise, some yellow. And what I wanna do is put down that bright green. Now that my light background has pretty much covered up, I want to punch those dark trees out because they're really going to define for me and help me judge value. And I do that by making, getting my turquoise and adding a little bit of magenta to it. Now, it's not green that way, right? Turquoise plus magenta is kind of a weird dark purple. Well, I can add yellow to make it green, but then it would lighten the color and I want it dark, dark, dark. So I'll just go for it with just real pure golden fluid, acrylic, magenta and turquoise. And then using different parts of my brush, making sure my brush is loaded with color. I go ahead and touch things now. Sometimes I see paintings of projects where you can see so much of the texture of the painting. And that is reasons one, it's not just a correctly suggest though, is that white paint that you prepare your canvas width and it gets rid of the texture of the canvas. The reason number 2 would be that you're not putting enough paint down. And so if you have a real textured canvas and not very much pain, the texture of the canvas for the final painting is distracting. I am just judging, looking at my photograph more than I'm looking at my painting. Maybe squinting my eyes and just really observing carefully and putting those blacks down. And then a big whitespace I've left out is my purple road. So I have this beautiful bright lavender path on the far right of the painting. There are some elements of design that make the landscapes more dramatic. And that one is perspective. So if you have a road, you're going to have that perspective. If you have a foreground landscape and then the background landscape like mountains or whatever are super pale and the foreground is dark, then you have atmospheric perspective. And while I've got this purple, I will add little bit of white and put down some of that sky. Now the sky is blue, but I like the unity of putting purple in the sky because of the purple that is in the clouds and in the road. But I have to make sure that the sky is lighter than the clouds. And the clouds are a lot lighter than the ground. And with this purple so that my blue next to it isn't quite a shock. I will mix together. It's actually the fallow blue lung fluid acrylics with some white and mix it right on top of that lavender because I want my blue to be a little bit warmer than if I weren't, wouldn't have mixed it with the lavender. So when I put it next to there, I can blend it nicely. Now the tricky thing about acrylic paint is, especially this soft body stuff, is that it dries darker than it looks when it's wet and I still can't get it through my head about making my values light enough the first time. So I end up just painting over and over until I get the value right, adding a little bit away. You can also have your white like in a well or a part of your canvas and just dip into it. But I'm squirting little dots kinda show you the ratios that I use. And another trick about landscapes is the closer to the horizon, the warmer the sky. And that's because the sun, especially the sun sets so up top I have cool purple and then kind of a coolish blue. And now I'm getting into sort of a mint or by adding yellow to my blue, more white towards the horizon. And it wasn't enough. So I made some nice light yellow and I'm putting that next to the colors. So if you can see that, it's kinda like what I did with the clouds, except with cool colors where I'm just budding up one color next to each other. But going from warm, I mean from cool to warm. And that yellow, that is the right value now because it's light enough, really needs to be down here where I put that originally at low. Because now I can see that it's to that original yellow on the horizon or it was too dark to be a sky. Sky should be lighter than the clouds. Clouds should be lighter than the ground. I like with the very corner of my brush putting little dots in trees. You can go like really detailed with that. And it just looks like more of the tree texture with the light shining through. And since I don't like to waste, I always think before I get this beautiful, awesome color off out of my brush, where else do I see it on the photo reference. So it's such a nice light, yellow. And now that I'm kinda understanding my values better, I'm punching out the brightest brights just here and there of my clouds with that bright yellow. So we're going to finish this painting in the very next video. So hang on, especially towards the end, I have some really good encouragement for you. See them. 7. Demo B, Sunset: Before we continue with the painting, I wanted to show you the first of this painting that I did a few years ago, which was actually one of my first acrylic landscapes because I had been a watercolor portrait artist and also a photography portrait artist for so long. Painting landscapes was really hard for me. So I did this challenge where I painted one little landscape every day for five days and post them on Facebook just for some accountability. And I tell you the first three, just look dumber than dumb. And then, then I painted this one. And it was like breakthrough. And then I did it a couple of Kansas ones. And these print paintings that I painted two or three years ago are now still being sold as Prince. And I also wanted to show you this painting because of all the detail that and color that I put in the grass in the foreground and then a little bit more detail in the trees. So the other painting I want to show you is more recent. After getting more skilled. Clouds have been hard for me to learn because they're very like subtle at solved, and they reflect so much light color. And this is just the way I paint them. So I put my colors right next to each other without blending very much. And from far away, it blends nicely. Okay, so back to the painting. And I'm, I have some yellowy white that I'm adding my pink and my retard or gel just because it spreads easily with that gel. And I'm making a really nice peach. So peaches, basically orange with a little bit of white in it. Now I can redefine the lightest lights of the clouds with the CLL. And the next thing I'm going to do is paint my road. Now you can go by and ultramarine blue if you want to. But I like having just a few paints and making every color out of those paints. So I have created an ultramarine blue by using my golden fluid acrylic phthalo blue with a little bit of my fluorescent pink and a little bit of magenta. I can lighten it with white. I can darken it with the fallow blue. I can make it warmer with more red. So I'm just kinda adding onto this little well of blues. I just keep changing that blue ever so slightly, making very nuanced value changes and temperature changes. So temperature changes are the warm next to the cool. So this video is sped up, but I still encourage painting quickly and not so quickly that you're not observing your reference very well but quickly in that you're not obsessing over one little area, fixing it and fixing it and fixing it. And then the rest of the painting dries like there's a lot of advantage of working wet on wet and it's more challenging with acrylics. So what on what the oils is called Alla prima. And that's how I first went into learning landscape painting, was with Ala Prima oil painting. But the slow dry time and the mass are just like I'm going acrylics. So, but the downside of acrylics is that it dries quickly. So that's why I used that Ricciardo gel because it slows down drawing. Another advantage of working quickly is that your palate stays so that you can borrow and re-mix colors. And if you have a little spray bottle that mists water onto your Canvas in case you live in a dry place, then that's always helpful to just don't put too much water in your paints because you want to control the intensity and opacity. You don't want it to be a water color. Okay. And then with different angles of my brush, I'm creating sort of tall grass effect. And if I don't cover too much area, but put colors next to each other. It just dances around. It looks like colorful little party. And there's the finished painting that I did very quickly. And I would love to see your painting. Up next is a pep talk which you won't want to miss because it's very encouraging. And so I'll see you then. 8. Use a Value Scale: Big news, my artists coaching courses here where I can help you on your artistic endeavors one-on-one and all my painting demos and every time I make a new one, I'll add it to this course, advanced colon mixing, brushwork, photography for artists. Well, first of all, I have this library of a 100 filtered photo references, which are extra special filtered and DIY filtering your photo references with two iPhone apps and Photoshop. How to photograph your art with an iPhone so that you can make Z clay prints out of it. I go over how to make she clay prints, how to sell them on Etsy. I hope you will join me head on over to Maria Morris for more information and to get my free demo, how to paint sunset clouds using a value scale, which is a mini-course that includes encouragement and downloads. That's Maria Morris,