Paint a Polaroid Sunset

design team - katherine painting May 27, 2021
How to paint a polaroid-style sunset

Ready to paint a picturesque Polaroid sunset watercolor? It’s Katherine and I am super excited to be back for another watercolor tutorial! I am going to take you through the step-by-step process of creating a Polaroid landscape painting of a beautiful sunset, wildflowers and all. 




Get some nature inspo with Peggy Dean's Guide to Nature Drawing & Watercolor. And grab this neat little botanical canvas pen pouch to store your supplies while you're at it!


Step 1: Drawing the Polaroid Layout

In pencil, lightly draw a Polaroid frame on the watercolor paper. I use the same measurements as a vintage Polaroid photograph. The outside of the Polaroid measures 3.5 inches across and 4.25 inches down. The inside measurement is a 3 inch square with a quarter inch border on the three sides and a one inch border from the bottom. If the pencil lines are too dark, use a kneaded eraser and press it over the lines to lighten. 

Pro Tip: I also use a kneaded eraser to pick up regular eraser crumbs, it keeps my watercolor paper from smudging. 


Step 2: Adding the Horizon Line

Draw a horizon line using the rule of thirds. For this painting I drew my horizon about one inch from the bottom. This allows for a large sky, which is the main focus of the painting. Avoid drawing the horizon line in the center of the page.



Step 3: Taping

Tape the border of the Polaroid using washi tape. I have found Scotch Expressions brand works best for me, it does not rip the paper and keeps the paint from bleeding underneath. Be sure to press the tape firmly into the paper. After the border is taped and covered, add a piece of washi tape just below the horizon line. 

Pro Tip: If using heat to dry the painting faster, the heat can cause the washi tape to become less adhesive, which will in turn cause paint to bleed underneath. 

Step 4: Painting the Sky!

This is my favorite part of every painting I create. I do not wet the paper prior to painting, but my brush is very wet. I use the number twelve brush for this because it will hold a lot of water and paint. I begin with a very pale yellow and paint it in the upper half of the sky leaving the top edge unpainted. This will create a barrier so the blue and yellow do not blend to make green sky. I feather the edges of the yellow out.


Next I add a cerulean blue color to the very top edge of the sky. The paint should blend into the yellow. You can use a clean brush with water to blend the two together if needed. 


From the bottom of the light yellow down to the horizon paint a bright yellow. Again, I sometimes blend the light yellow and bright yellow together with a clean, wet brush. 



Pro Tip: Blend from the lightest color out to the darkest color.

Now the fun! While the paint is still wet I add a stripe of orange paint just above the horizon line. If the paper is wet it will bleed right into the yellow. To keep the orange from overtaking all the yellow, tilt your paper vertically for a minute or so and let gravity pull the orange back down. 


Add another line of color, a warm red or pyrrol scarlet, right on top of the orange. I love watching the paint bleed together! 


If painting a beach is more your thing, you can re-create this beautiful sandy scene that will make you wish you were on vacation.


If the sky is not as smooth as you want use a clean, wet brush to blend the colors further. Always blend from the yellow to the top, clean the brush and blend from the yellow down.



Once the sky is dry slowly peel off the horizon line washi tape pulling the tape by pulling it away from the sky. 

Step 5: Painting the Grass

To paint the grass, I again start with dry paper and a very wet brush. Paint a block of a sap green color from the horizon to the bottom of the square. Then add a darker green line just below the horizon in a medium green color. Grass is usually darker near the horizon and this is an easy way to add depth to any landscape. I also paint a few dashes of darker green in the lower half of the grass. 


Step 6: Painting the Trees

Once the sky and grass are dry I add distant trees along the horizon. Mix a very yellowy green and paint circle shapes blended together across the horizon line using a round number eight brush. Trees are not perfect which is one reason I love painting nature. It does not have to be perfect! 

While the paint is wet add yellow paint to the top of the trees. This allows for the feeling of the sunlight passing through the leaves.


Next paint dark green to the bottom half of the trees. The last step in the trees is to paint black along the very bottom to create depth and shadow. 



Step 7: The Wildflowers Flowers

I love spring and wildflowers. To add the feel of flowers use a round number two brush and dot flowers in lines in the grass. I use the same pyrrol scarlet and yellow colors from the sky.


Pro Tip: Add a tiny dark green line or dots under each flower area to add depth to the flowers and grass.


Step 8: Removing the Tape

Once the painting is completely dry it is time to remove the tape. This is the most satisfying part! Pull the tape off very slowly, always pulling away from the painting. The slower the tape is removed the less chance of the paper tearing.


Step 9: Cutting Down to Size

I have tried many different ways to cut the Polaroid, but for me an X-Acto knife and metal ruler work best. Be sure to carefully place the ruler over the painting when you cut, it prevents accidentally cutting into the painting if the knife slips.



A little about me. By day I am a high school art teacher and when I am not in school I am either painting or looking for inspiration to paint! I love plants, nature, and being outdoors.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! I would love to see your paintings too! Please feel free to tag me on Instagram @katherine.urban.art