Did you take time to watch a sunset this summer? For most people with small kids the answer is probably no, unless they just went on vacation. And it’s a pity considering that sunsets are not only beautiful, but also very educational. Educational, you ask? That’s right, the colors in sunsets are the realm of physics and atmospheric physicists. So go ahead, make plans to enjoy the beauty of sunset as a family and introduce your kids to physics at the same time.
The Science of Sunsets
The color of the sky you see depends on the path the sun light took before it got to you. The light waves coming off the sun travel through empty space. In Earth atmosphere as the light travels it encounters dust and water droplets and the tiny gas molecules that make up the air. All that causes the light to scatter, sending it off in different directions. This scattering happens million times before the light reaches your eyes.
At sunset the light takes a much longer path to travel through the atmosphere than earlier in the day. As a result, much of the color blue and violet (shorter wavelengths) gets scattered before it reaches a human eye. The light that do pass the atmosphere during the sunset hours is longer wavelength of light such as yellow, red and orange. And that explains the colorful and magnificent sunsets that you might have seen in your life.
Painting Sunsets with Kids
Do your kids like painting sky? Is it usually blue? My kids like to paint everything, but typically whatever they paint, be it a house or a dinosaur, they finish the masterpiece by adding a blue sky. So, I decided to teach my kids a bit about painting more sophisticated skies. When I saw an acrylic class that offered to teach the art of painting sunsets, I signed up with my kids. My kids since gave their paintings away as presents, but I still have my tropical sunset.
The problem with acrylics is that they are not easy for kids. So this time I decided to use my favorite painting medium – watercolors. Watercolors are perfect for little kids because they are so forgiving! If they paint a harsh line they don’t like, all you have to do is dilute it with water and dab it with a piece of rug. Gone! Start over. Watercolor sunsets are easy and fun for kids of all ages!
I’m using a plain white paper I pulled out of a printer, a wide selection of brushes (only because I was not sure how the fancy will strike me), watercolors from Target, a cup with water and a piece of tissue (just in case I need to dub away excess of color).
When it comes to watercolors lots of water is good. So, I like to start with wetting the paper. Just dip your biggest brush into water and “paint” the page wet. Kids love this step!
Now we will create a base tone for our page. Pick a nice shade of yellow and paint the whole page with medium or large brush. Easy-peasy! My kids love painting the whole page the same color.
Paint the middle third of the page with a mix of orange and red leaving a bit of space for sun. If you forget to leave some space for sun, just drop a bit of water on the spot and dab it with rug or tissue. Or don’t worry about the sun at all. You will be fine without it.
When I create a mix of red and orange, I just dip the brush into water then into orange color and immediately into red color and start painting with that brush. The next time around I dip my wet brush into red first and then into orange. I think it gives the final color an interesting variation.
Now add in a bit of darker colors. Here I use a mix of purple, blue and even a dash of black. If you notice there are two kinds of brushstrokes. The smoother stretches of darker color were introduced by using a wide side of the brush. Hold your brush like on a pic below and model it to your kids.
And to create sharper contrast patterns use the edge of the brush. See the pic below
Now add a real dark color around the edges. I’m using a mix of blue and black.
You don’t have to do this next step, but my kids asked for sea and cliffs. So, I added some dark blue to the bottom of the page for water effect and added patches of black to represent cliffs.
Don’t worry about colors spreading. It creates a natural transition. Real cliffs do cast shadow over the water.
I left a bit of yellow path in the middle of my body of water for light reflection. If kids color with blue all over the bottom of the page, they simply can add a bit of yellow on top of it. Watercolors will blend right in!
My kids pronounced it a fun project! I love how watercolors flow on wet paper and blend into one another. It creates a very realistic effect because the colors in nature are typically blended and not dubbed one on top of another. But blending acrylics or tempera paint is much more difficult to accomplish successfully for kids than blending watercolors.
How does your sunset look? Share it with me on instagram!
Are you looking for more painting ideas for kids? You will find lots of wonderful ideas here!!!