Tips for Accurately Drawing a Night Sky

Tips for Accurately Drawing a Night Sky

My original intention for this post was a tutorial subject showing you how to draw the night sky. But it’s a lot more difficult to find a good reference photo than I expected. Especially one that hasn’t been photographed with filters, or been altered in post production. So I’m going to share a few tips for accurately drawing a night sky instead, and keep looking for a good reference!

Tips for Accurately Drawing a Night Sky

NOTE: Have you taken good night-time photos? If you have a shot of a night sky you’d like me to look at, send me an email and let’s talk.

In the meantime, lets talk about a few tips to help you draw a night sky.

Tips for Accurately Drawing a Night Sky

Use More Colors Than Black

The only time a night sky is truly black is when there’s no moon, and you can’t see the sky for thick clouds. There is always some light in a clear, night sky. Stars appear in profusion on moonless nights. If there weren’t, you’d have nothing to draw!

Most night skies are made up a variety of blues, so make good use of those deep, dark blues when drawing a night sky. Use black to darken the values, but mix it with other colors.

Other colors to consider are deep violets (lightfast only, of course,) and dark greens. Why those colors? Because the colors in the sky are affected by a number of things, including location. Your best bet is to closely observe the night sky in person, and take note of what you see and all the variations in value and color.

Pay Attention to the Setting

Location makes a difference.

I live in south central Kansas. Wichita is 35 miles away. The town I live in has a population over 20,000. That means there is always light in the air. The night sky looks black against such environmental light unless the sky is extraordinarily clear or there’s a visible moon.

But in some of the more “suburban” neighborhoods, where street lights are further apart, the sky is more visible. You see more stars and more color.

Drive 30 to 60 minutes, out into the Flint Hills, where the nearest yard lights are specks on the horizon, and the sky looks close enough to touch.

The way you draw a sky over a city, and a sky in an open, natural landscape differs a great deal. Pay attention to the setting, and draw your night sky accordingly.

Full Moon, Half Moon or No Moon at All

The moon puts a lot of light into the night sky, especially when it’s full. If there are also clouds, especially high, thin clouds, it provides even more visual interest, as shown in this old oil painting.

Accurately Drawing a Night Sky - Moonlight Sonata

But unless your landscape is pretty strong on its own, the moon and clouds can become the subject.

The moon can throw light into the night sky without actually being visible in the drawing, however. Position it just outside of your drawing for strong lighting, or a little further away for more subtle results.

Accurately Drawing a Night Sky - Winter in Moonlight

Composing the Night Sky

And the previous tip leads directly into this one: Decide on the role the night sky plays in your composition. Is it a background for a nocturnal landscape, or is it the center of interest. Deciding that upfront gives you a head start on knowing how best to draw the night sky.

If the sky is just a background, as shown above, all you really need are the right values, the right colors, and maybe a sprinkling of stars.

Is the night sky the subject? Then you have to draw all those stars, arrange them in interesting patterns, and make sure to vary the brightness and size of them. Otherwise, you end up with a polka-dot sky.

Try Colored Paper

Even the brightest parts of a night-time drawing are going to be subdued to some extent by the darkness. You can draw a night sky on white paper, but to save time and effort, consider colored paper.

But not too dark!

What do I recommend? That depends on the type of paper you prefer. Since I use a lot of Canson Mi-Teintes, I’d consider Dark Gray, Felt Gray, Flannel Gray, Indigo Blue (though it might be a bit dark), Light Blue, Sky Blue, and Steel Gray for a night-time drawing.

Of course the only way to know what works best is to try a couple of different colors, even if all you do is color on scrap pieces of paper.


Those basic tips should get you started on drawing the night sky of your choice. Practice some sketches or studies this week, and you’ll be ready for the step-by-step tutorial!

And don’t forget to send me an email if you have taken good photos of your night sky. I want to do a tutorial, but prefer it to be in the context of a nice landscape. Or to at least have a few trees!


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