How I Paint Auroras

My husband is pretty much obsessed with the northern lights, or aurora borealis. He’s one of those people who will jump in his car in the middle of the night to chase auroras, and talks about the beauty of this phenomenon basically non stop.

I really appreciate the gorgeousness of the auroras too, but folks, sleep is a priority for me. 🙂 No late-night excursions for this author lady. Still, the northern lights are wonderful, and thanks to the hubs, I’ve had some access to the most incredible photos of the dancing heavens in the last while. Which means I’ve been painting.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how I paint auroras. I used both my Cotman Pocket Set and my trusty Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils, and painted on 300g/m2 watercolour paper.

In this particular painting, I use yellows, greens, blues, and a hint of purple and pink. Auroras come in all colours, though, so you could also stick to only reds and pinks, or focus on the green. Additionally, some auroras are like ribbons of colour, blended into the sky, while others, the picket fence auroras, are more like vertical lines.

Step 1

I start by plotting out where I want the auroras to go with simple cadmium yellow lines, then add viridian directly next to the yellow, and blend out with water.

I find the easiest way to blend out the colours is to stick with vertical lines.

Step 2

I add French Ultramarine to the outer edges of my green blob, then darken the colour even more with Van Dyke brown at the farthest points.

Once that has dried a bit (not completely, though) I go back in with pigment directly from the tips of my watercolour pencils. I used helioblue-reddish and indigo at the extremities, blending vertically.

Step 3

I strengthen the vibrancy of the green by adding pigment from my cadmium yellow lemon and light cadmium yellow pencils.

Step 4

I add highlights to the green with my white watercolour pencil.

Step 5

For some depth, I add pigment from my purple violet and pink madder lake pencils to the green.

I was sparing with this step, just a bit here and there to make the aurora more interesting.

And that’s it.

Once this all dries, you can add the stars and whatever else you want to. I typically go with trees, because that’s how I roll. 🙂

This is how the painting looked at the end.

Happy painting, folks!



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