How to Paint a Realistic Universe

Simone O'Shea

Painting a realistic universe is less challenging by orders of magnitude than comprehending the mysteries of the cosmos. About 15 billion years ago the Big Bang began the expansion and foundations of our universe filled with stars, planets and multiple galaxies such as our own Milky Way.

Master the art of painting a realistic universe.

Though scientifically complex, the universe is visually stunning, filled with multicolored clouds of particles, light and dark matter and glowing, spiral galaxies and pulsing stars. These amorphous shapes and colors are a joy to paint.

  1. Place the canvas on the easel horizontally. Paint the entire canvas black with a large flat brush. Allow to dry fully.

  2. Draw a large tilted oval spanning from the top right corner to the bottom left corner of the canvas in white pencil to represent the basic shape of the Milky Way. Draw a small oval at the center of the large oval for the galactic center. Draw lines originating from and spiraling in a clockwise direction around the galactic center. These represent the galactic arms.

  3. Mix white, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue paint to create a dark purple. Dip a medium-size flat brush in water, then load it with the purple mixture. Paint over the drawn white lines of the galaxy in loose brushstrokes, moving in the same direction as the galactic ellipse to portray the glow of the galactic arms and halo of the Milky Way. Blend the paint edges smooth with a dry fan brush.

  4. Separate the purple paint into two piles. Mix a small amount of blue and white paint into a light indigo color. Reserve the second pile for later. Load a medium-size round brush with the indigo. Dab lightly and in irregular intervals along the center of the galactic arms; these are the clouds of galactic dust particles. Use the fan brush to blend smooth.

  5. Mix white paint with a small amount of ultramarine blue paint. Paint this color in the galactic center and the roots of the galactic arms with a small round brush. Blend with a fan brush. Use the same color to dab highlights of the dense clusters of particles along the galactic arms. Blend with a fan brush. Mix white paint with a small amount of yellow paint and acrylic matte medium. Paint the warm, translucent white over the galactic center, allowing the other layers of paint to show at the edges. Blend with the fan brush.

  6. Mix alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and burnt umber paint to create a dark, reddish-purple. Mix this color with acrylic matte medium. Load a large round brush with the translucent mixture, and dab randomly over the entire canvas except the galactic center. Blend with a fan brush.

  7. Dip a small round brush in the dark purple paint mixed in Step 4. Randomly dot the purple throughout the black background. Dip a new small round brush into the lighter purple paint mixed in Step 5 and apply to the center of several of the darker dots to paint distant stars. Load a third small round brush with the light blue paint mixed in Step 6 and dot in the center of random dark purple dots to paint the brighter, closer stars.

  8. Tip

    Use synthetic-bristle brushes with acrylic paints -- natural bristles will swell and split. Acrylic paints, when wet, look lighter than they will when dry; acrylic paint blended with matte medium appears milky when wet but dries transparent. Take this into account during the painting process.