Galaxy paintings are a milestone most beginner artist have a go at. In watercolor it’s a great way to practice important techniques such as layering, blending, and creating smooth gradients. In addition, with a little patience most people produce some good-looking galaxies and nebulas they can enjoy or give to friends and family.
One little note here is that painting galaxies is fun regardless of your skill level, and they can be used as a gorgeous card or backdrop for hand-lettering of kind motivating messages to yourself or others.
This tutorial also offers a great project to do with kids as it is easy to follow, and you can create more than one painting at once so you can move between them to help keep children occupied for a little while.
In this article we will show you three examples of Galaxy painting and how to create these in easy steps. Keep in mind that since this is a text tutorial rather than a video it might be a good idea to read through it once or twice before commencing the projects as the text will contain details for the steps you might miss otherwise. The first image will be very detailed, the others less so so read the first one even if you would like to do one of the other two. The pictures are there to guide you through and show you that the intermediate steps are not always pretty – so no giving up easily! If it is a total disaster of colors not working together, and you really cannot see a way of rescuing it then maybe it’s ok to start over. If you do that try to analyze what went wrong to avoid making the same mistakes again.
With no further ado and wishing you great creative fun lets start looking at the materials we’ll need to create some art!
Table of Contents
First, we will give you the list of materials, hopefully everything you need will already be available to you. In the image below you can see all the materials laid out on an MDF board. We’ll also discuss what materials might be useful and how you can work if you’re missing something. The discussion of materials may be helpful to you if you are new to painting and maybe thinking of what to invest in.
- Suitable surface
- Paper suited to working with mixed media
- Watercolor paints
- Masking tape
- An old toothbrush or a cheap new toothbrush for painting
- White acrylic or Gouache paint
- White gel pen
- Paper towels for wiping off excess water and paint
- Two containers with water
Lay your materials out in a logical way, so you know where everything is. We have placed ours on an MDF board on a table.
Because we will be using tape to fix the paper to the table, and we will also be working quite wet it is really important to choose a non-precious surface. Any hard surface will do, however if you have a white desk or a table where the varnish might be damaged with the tape then it’s best to use an MDP board, cardboard or an old newspaper to tape the paper to – this avoids damaging your surface.
We will initially be using a technique called wet-on-wet, which uses a lot of water so any paper you use will need to be able to handle that. If you’re a complete beginner then investing in some cellulose water-color paper or mixed media paper shouldn’t set, you back too much. Though if you can afford it getting a few sheets of cold pressed cotton paper will be worth your while as this reacts very well to watercolor and will produce the most vibrant result. Reputable brands are Arches, Stonehenge, Fabiano among many others.
Any paint will do, this is much less important than the paper. However, a student grade beginner paint set from a good brand such as Winsor and Newton or Daler and Rowney will give you nice vibrant colors that will see you through. Cheaper paints may not be pigmented enough to produce a nice result. Try what you have and if it doesn’t work you might need to consider making a modest investment. Professional paints are the most pigmented, but also very expensive so we recommend holding off and investing in your paper and brushes first then once you know you love watercolor painting as a hobby and that you’ll stick with it treating yourself to some fancier paint.
For Galaxy painting you only need one decent brush! We recommend a round brush any size between 8-12. You can paint nearly anything with a good size 8 round brush. It’s better to invest in 2-3 decent brushes than to get a pack on 20 bad ones. There is an array of watercolor brushes. A wonderful brand is Escoda and another is Da Vinci. Both do excellent quality synthetics and Sable. The sable is very expensive and of course involves animal cruelty but are generally highly considered among artists. We will be using synthetic brushes in our demos below. The Brush used for almost everything was an Escoda Versatil 8 round brush.
Use the tape to fix the paper to your surface before starting. Because of the amount of water, we’ll use the paper is likely to warp. The tape stops it doing that. Once you’re done, you’ll have a nice white edge to your painting as well as the tape will stop the paper under it getting wet.
Carefully tape your paper to your surface before starting. Try to put the tape as straight as possible.
Toothbrush, White Paint and White Gel Pen
To get the star effect we will put the tip of a toothbrush in white paint and flick it onto the paper. The stiffer the toothbrush the better. The one we used to be rather soft so the stars were quite fine and misty. The White gel pen is not a must, but it does give you the opportunity to add details in the end such as a few extra or bigger stars.
Any white paint will do, though it should be opaque to acrylic or gouache is best.
If you have got everything, then let’s start painting!
Monochrome Galaxy Painting
Guess what, for a monochrome galaxy you need a single paint. We used Przybysz’s Grey from the brand Roman Szmal. This is a highly granulating color with some separation in the pigments that make it up giving it a lovely texture. Any grey, black, or other dark color you have will do though.
We will show you the final painting first then take you through the steps to produce it.
If you follow the steps below you should produce a monochrome galaxy with some textures and highlights.
Step 1: Once you have taped your paper to the board, use a clean paintbrush and wet the entire paper. It should be shiny (see picture below) but there should ideally not be any puddles of water. If you use too much water, you can gently dab any puddle with the corner of a paper towel to remove the excess.
Step 2: Load your brush with pain and start spreading it around. You can start by forming a light layer all over then darkening up some areas while leaving some areas light. Below you can see what our first layer looked like wet. This technique is called Wet-on-Wet as we are using wet paint onto wetted paper.
Step 3: allow your paint to completely dry. This can take anything from 15-30 minutes depending on how much water your paper has soaked up and the temperature and humidity of your working location. You can use the time to start another painting, or you can use a heat tool or a hair dryer to speed things up. Just make sure there are no puddles if you do. Some watercolor paints undergo a significant drying shift (the colors saturation and hue might change) as they dry. Our color did just that as you can see below.
Step 4: Apply paint where you would like darker areas, just to block these out. You’ll have to work fast to blend them in, but it’ll give you beautiful result. Below you can see that dark paint has been applied in fast brushstrokes mostly over areas that were in the first layer.
Step 5: reduce the amount of paint on your brush by either wiping it on a paper towel then rinsing it in one of your water containers or rinsing it straight away. Then start moving the wet brush along the edges of the dark areas to create a smooth transition. If you think an area is too dark you can pat your brush dry then try picking up a little of the paint or use the corner of a paper towel to gently dab it. This is what it looked like while still wet:
Step 6: you guessed it – allow to completely dry. As you can see below the color hasn’t reached full saturation in any areas compared to what it looks like wet.
Step 7: you might be completely happy after your second layer, or you might want to choose to build up the color more by adding an additional layer or two. Three layers tends to be a decent number for giving a galaxy some real texture and depth. Below is what ours looked like dry after an additional two layers: the paint has moved around significantly in the process but it has created some wonderful textures and color gradients.
Step 8: add some stars! To add stars we use the toothbrush and the acrylic/ gouache white paint. Load the brush with paint then using your thumb drag your fingers along the bristles away from the paper. You might want to do a couple of practice runs before doing it on your actual painting. Note for this:
- Make sure to wear an old T-shirt or something you don’t care about
- You can use an A-4 sheet to shield the rest of your room/ other paintings from the splatter.
- If you have a glove, it might be wise to put it on before you start flicking.
- You can vary the flicking distance to create different splatter effects.
- You can gently smudge some paint blobs with your finger to create lighter areas or shooting star effects
Once the white paint is dried you can then go in with the gel pen and add more specific start and details and maybe some lines to create texture. You will have something resembling the painting at the top of the sheet, though here it is again just in case.
Soft Gradient Galaxy
This is a wonderful way to paint a galaxy, and if you’ve ever had a chance to see the milky way you’d know how it can appear like a bright belt in the sky with stars scattered around it. We’ve kept the colors light and bright here, but you can use any gradient colors you like and darken them as much as you like by adding more layers or using darker colors. You can do this with two paints, we used three, a teal, a darker turquoise and a paint called Peyne’s Grey, which is a cool toned grey. You can just use light blue, dark blue and grey or black if you don’t have grey – though be very careful if using black, it can easily be very overpowering in watercolors. Here is what we’re aiming for.
Step 1: wet your paper evenly using a clean brush and fresh water
Step 2: start by addng a streak of your lightest color across the middle of the paper and spreading it out toward the corners. The middle should be lightest and color should be built up around it. In the image below we’ve blocked out the lightest color then started adding the second color on the bottom side. You’ll need to do this for both sides then add the darkest color closest to the corners.
Step 3: Allow to completely dry. It will look something like the image below, you could blend it more but there is no need at the first layer stage. We will work on blending over the next layer or two.
Step 4: Once completely dry add another layer on, starting with the lightest color add streaks on either side of the bright middle and blend it in. To blend use a wet clean brush moving gently back and forth along any hard edges. Then continue to add streaks of the darker blue and finally the grey as you move outward, blending these as best you can.
Step 5: Allow to completely dry. Some paints move too much if you try to blend them wet, in these cases it is acceptable to leave a harder line to blend out once dry as you can see in the image above.
Step 6: blend any harsh lines in with the technique described above, and add any additional paint you think is needed such as more grey along the edges. We were happy with ours after this step but you can keep working it in layers until you’re completely satisfied.
Step 7: use the toothbrush and gel pen to create stars and textures using the techniques described in the monochrome galaxy tutorial.
Finally, this is a type of galaxy painting many people enjoy because it allows you to use your imagination and many colors. This one is probably the most difficult to execute as it requires you to choose colors that work well together, create transitions between colors that might blend into each other to create an undesirable effect (think mixing yellow and blue producing an unwanted green). We have added a layer of complexity to ours by adding a lighter blue belt in the middle incorporating some of the skills we have already discussed. You don’t have to do this of course. If this is your first ever painting, you might want to start with one of the others and work your way up to this one.
This is what our nebula painting looked like when completed:
Step 1: get your paper nice and wet as described above
Step 2: block out the galaxy line if you’d like one
Step 3: Block out your nebula could colors roughly where you want them mostly avoiding the central line. We picked a bright red and a strong yellow with purple surrounds – you can choose a different color scheme.
Step 4: you guessed it; allow it to completely dry.
Steps 5-8 are a repeat of the above. Layer more colors on as you go along, being very careful particularly around the transition from yellow to blue/ yellow to purple. You might get a little green but it can look lovely and natural as long as you layer and blend. It took us five layers to get ours to a state we thought acceptable hence we’re not showing every step along the way.
Things to keep in mind:
- You can always add more color later, removing is a lot more difficult.
- You might not get the result you want if you pick colors that don’t play nicely together this is because sometimes a color is made of multiple pigments and when it separates it causes havoc when mixed with another color. If this is the case try again and just vary the most problematic color
- This will take a little patience as the thinner layers you work with the better it will look.
- Looking at pictures of nebulas can give inspiration as to how to block out your colors and which colors to choose.
- Layering the bright colors and letting them dry then adding the darker surround color and blending after worked quite well for us as it avoided muddling the edges more than was desired.
Painting galaxies is great fun and it can allow you to really work on important watercolor techniques. You can pain galaxies with other materials such as acrylics or crayons, but watercolor is something many people enjoy trying and the results are nearly always wonderful. We hope you learned something and that you will enjoy painting some galaxies for your own relaxation or as a fun activity with children or friends.
If you are painting with children remember to use a non-toxic brand of paint if they’re young enough to consider consuming some when you’re not watching!