How to Paint Glowing Light - Watercolor Technique

Oct 26, 2022


One goal we have when we paint is to take the essence of a scene - something that excites you - and to put it on paper. 

An element that consistently inspires me is light

And often, I find myself wanting to capture that glowing feeling of warm light. If that's something that you're interested in too, then this video is for you.

Learn to Paint Glowing Light in Watercolor

 Achieving glowing colors in watercolor is all about contrast, which can be accomplished by combining warm and cool colors, paying attention to value, and reserving detail for the light areas of your painting. 

So, let’s look at a recent painting of mine where I incorporated glowing light. I liked this old farm on the edge of town, and I particularly liked how the light was hitting these trees. I wanted to tell the story of the day through the shadows and the light. I wanted to capture the atmosphere with these elements. And I wanted the light in this painting to be warm and enticing. 

Should I paint dark or light colors first?

If you’re familiar with my painting style, you’ll recall that it’s usually done in three phases - or what I sometimes refer to as washes. Step one is to paint the lightest values of the scene. Step two is to paint a large middle value shape. And then finally, I paint the darks and the details of the scene.

In my first wash, I'm typically painting the sky and the lightest colors of the rest of the scene. I am using my warmest colors here. I am thinking about the light and the warmth of this scene, including my brightest warmth. 

In the grass where the light is hitting the most, I'm placing my brightest, warmest greens and letting some of these warm colors mix together within this first wash. I'm also placing a few lighter, warmer greens in the sky, and that light green color is going to portray the light shining on the leaves of these trees.

My darker and cooler colors will come into play later in my painting.

Watercolor Technique to Depict Glowing Light

Here are three simple steps to achieving glowing, luminous light in your paintings:


  1. Think about your warmest colors and incorporate them within your first wash of the painting. Focus your warmth and saturation in the middle area of the painting. This way, the attention does not go to the foreground or the sky, but to the middle ground. 
  2. Do not overwork or overcomplicate the detail in the shadows. Focus instead on creating a large connected shape, letting shapes merge while they’re wet. When you save the little bits of detail for the light areas, it draws a viewer’s eye right there. By simplifying the shadow areas of your scene, you keep the focus on the light areas of your painting.
  3. Include cool colors – like blue – in the shadow areas to create contrast with the warm colors you started with in your first wash. This can really make that glowing light stand out and give you that ambiance you’re going for. 

Follow these strategies to capture the nice glowing light of a scene, and let me know how it goes in a comment below. Until next time, keep working, keep practicing and keep moving forward!


Related Videos: 

Demo on Painting Glowing Light 

How to Paint a Nocturne

How to Paint a Morning Sky

Stop Overworking Your Paintings!

Watch my FREE Video Lesson 7 Secrets of Fresh, Powerful Painting.

I send out weekly free tips in teaching. Unsubscribe at any time!