Jacob Aguiar, "Evening Calm in Blues," pastel on paper, 12 x 18 in

Jacob Aguiar – On Painting The Glory Of Sunsets

What happens when you watch a sunset? Chances are you’re in awe and glad to be alive. It may make you laugh or move you to tears. And inevitably, as an artist, you’ll probably feel the urge to paint it. But dang, painting sunsets can be tricky. For one thing, the sun sets so quickly! It’s almost impossible to keep up. And so what do we do? We take photos and plan to paint from them later. And when we do, our paintings just don’t live up to our experience. Jacob Aguiar is a fantastic landscape painter in pastels but it was his sunsets that stunned me – each one evokes the emotions that often accompany the setting sun.

How does he do that??

I decided to ask him if he’d share his tips for painting sunsets in a guest blog and yes!! he agreed ūüôā

Don’t know his sunsets? Here’s one to get you sighing:


Jacob Aguiar, "Winter Scene, Near Sunset," pastel on UArt400, 12 x 16 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Winter Scene, Near Sunset,” pastel on UArt400, 12 x 16 in


Before I hand you over to him, let me tell you a bit about Jacob Aguiar.


Jacob Aguiar Bio

Jacob Aguiar is a naturopathic doctor who spends his weekends painting. He discovered pastels in 2011 when he came across the landscape pastels of Richard McKinley. He was hooked and began experimenting and studying with several artists including Richard McKinley, Albert Handell, Clark Mitchell, and Marla Baggetta. Since then he’s exhibited in a number of national shows winning awards along the way. He teaches regular classes locally and workshops internationally. Check out his website for more info and paintings!


And now it’s my pleasure to hand the blog over to the man himself – Jacob Aguiar!




Jacob Aguiar – For The Love Of Sunsets


Likely nearly every artist to have ever lived, I paint light and the effects of light on the landscape. Sunrises and sunsets are so spectacular in that they can turn very benign, even ugly scenes into brilliant scenes. Another reason I paint sunsets is I work full time so often the only time during the week I can get out and paint or take photos is in the evening. Naturally sunsets make up an important part of my reference photos.



Jacob Aguiar, "Eastern Trail July Sunset," pastel on paper, 14 x 18 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Eastern Trail July Sunset,” pastel on paper, 14 x 18 in


It was the winter of 2016 when I really¬†began focusing on painting sunsets.¬†Prior to that, I may have done a random sunset scene here or there, but it wasn’t until I saw the sun setting on a local marsh that I fell¬†in love with this time of day.¬†The painting Gail included above ‚Äď ‚ÄúWinter Scene, Near Sunset‚ÄĚ ‚Äď is one of my very¬†first sunset paintings, painted winter of 2016.

Before I begin talking about painting sunsets in pastel, I would like to recommend a video by John Lasater on painting the sunset in oils called Painting Into Direct Sunlight. Although he’s painting in oils, the general rules hold true. John sets up and paints a sunset from life as the sun descends behind a row of trees with buildings in the foreground. I learned many of the basics of painting sunsets from this video.


Jacob Aguiar, "Sunset Over the Marsh," pastel on paper, 24 x 32 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Sunset Over the Marsh,” pastel on paper, 24 x 32 in


As with painting any subject, be it landscape, portrait, or still life, observation is the key to success here. The nuances of color and balance between bright, intense hues, and neutrals is essential, as a scene with only very saturated color can feel garish or sickly sweet. On the other hand, one only need to do a Google search for ‚ÄúGeorge Inness Sunset‚ÄĚ to get a sense of what I‚Äôm talking about. Inness rarely used oranges, reds, or yellows at their full intensity. Rather they are slightly neutralized, which, when combined with his wonderful compositions, gives a sense of mystery, wonder, and calm.


Jacob Aguiar, "March Thaw," pastel on paper, 20 x 24 in
Jacob Aguiar, “March Thaw,” pastel on paper, 20 x 24 in


Sunsets shift in color and value so quickly that painting from life can be a challenge. It can certainly be done (as John Lassater does in his video), especially if you set up your composition and anticipate the location where the sun will set behind the horizon line before the sun actually sets. However, rather than rush to get a painting done, I will take my pastels out and collect color swatches of the scene. If I’m really organized, I’ll divide the paper into different areas for the sky, sun, trees, ground plane, water, etc., and place colors in each category as I see them. Otherwise, I’ll just put colors on the paper for reference back in the studio. I will then use my reference photos as a guide for composition and drawing.


Jacob Aguiar, "Midsummer Evening," pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Midsummer Evening,” pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in


The biggest difference between the way the sun looks like in real life and how it appears in a photo is that in a photo, lights will get completely blown out and turn bright white, and darks will often go to black. So with a very brilliant sunset, you basically have a photo that is only good for the drawing. The entire reason you took the photo is eliminated by taking the photo!  I rely on plein air painting, and taking color notes to ensure I get accurate color and values in my sunset paintings.

Look at this photo below that I used as reference for ‚ÄúMarch Sunset.‚Ä̬† You can see the photo is essentially useless apart from basic drawing of the scene.¬†The color and values in¬†the completed painting come from study outdoors and practice!


Jacob Aguiar: Photo reference for March sunset
Photo reference for March sunset


Jacob Aguiar, "March Sunset," pastel on paper, 24 x 24 in
Jacob Aguiar, “March Sunset,” pastel on paper, 24 x 24 in


Let me show you a progression. First here‚Äôs my studio set up. My ipad is held by a basic ‚Äėgooseneck‚Äô iPad holder found on Amazon. There are hundreds of them out there, and they all receive a lot of bad reviews!¬†This is my second one. The first lasted about a year, which I consider a great purchase for the price. I used to have to limit my painting time due to my right arm fatiguing by holding the¬†iPad. That’s no longer a problem.


Jacob Aguiar: Thumbnail, paper, and iPad set up to start
Thumbnail, paper, and iPad set up to start


My paper is taped to a backing board, and you can also see my two-value notan. I do both two-value and four-value sketches. I often start with a four-value sketch and then simplify it to two values to establish the most basic, abstract relationship between darks and lights.

Using the notan and the reference photo, I will mass in the composition using a reddish-orange Nupastel. I’ve found this color works well for nearly any scene, and it particularly works well for a sunset in which the landscape is influenced by a warm light. I am then responding to a warm underpainting, which will ensure I adhere closely to this color sense. If I were to place a very cool color on this underpainting, it would feel out of place. That’s not to say I won’t use cool colors, as I absolutely will. However, I am more mindful about the dominant warm light when I have the warm underpainting to respond to.


Jacob Aguiar: NuPastel first layer - for underpainting
NuPastel first layer – for underpainting


I will then apply color over the orange based on my color swatches or what I remember from the scene, and then set it in with alcohol. By that I basically mean I use isopropyl alcohol to wet and smear the pastel, creating an underpainting with soft edges.  This next photo shows what the underpainting looks like.

I then begin applying final color over the underpainting. In the sky, I have used a variety of yellows, oranges, pinks, and very light green. The sun itself is painted with vertical and horizontal strokes rather than painting a ball in the sky, giving it a more painterly quality. It will be the lightest area of the sky, and be slightly cooler than the immediately surrounding sky. A cream color will often work.


Jacob Aguiar: The NuPastel layer set with alcohol, and more pastels being added
The NuPastel layer set with alcohol, and more pastels being added


In this scene the sun is setting behind this stand of trees, so it obscures and softens the edge of the tree line, while warming the trees considerably. While there is green foliage in these trees, the sun’s influence turns those greens to warm ochres, oranges, and yellows. In the shadow areas, warm violets were used to adhere to the color scheme established with the underpainting. I’ve used many of the sky and tree colors in the snow reflection, maintaining color harmony.


Jacob Aguiar, "Winter Glare," pastel on paper, 16 x 12 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Winter Glare,” pastel on paper, 16 x 12 in


I use almost every professional grade pastel on the market.  I have complete sets of Nupastel, Cretacolor, and Sennelier, and also have plenty of Ludwigs, Blue Earth, Schmincke, Rembrandt, Girault, Unisons, and Great Americans. I have yet to own the holy grail of pastels, Henri Roché, but I am planning on getting some at the PSA annual marketplace or at IAPS.



Jacob Aguiar, "Sunstruck #2," pastel on UART 400 paper, 9 1/2 x 14 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Sunstruck #2,” pastel on UART 400 paper, 9 1/2 x 14 in


My other¬†career is as a naturopathic doctor, seeing¬†patients four full days a week.¬†Many of my¬†patients are chronically ill, “medical mysteries,” and with chronic Lyme disease.¬†It’s¬†fulfilling work but incredibly difficult work. I work full days Tuesday to Friday, and try to get out and paint or take¬†reference photos a few days during the week.¬†I then spend most of my Saturday to Monday¬†either¬†painting, thinking about painting, or taking reference photos.

I love my patients and the work I do, but the joy, excitement, and passion I feel for¬†painting¬†the landscape is unmatched.¬†I feel that being an artist is a¬†natural fit for me, and keeps me balanced in a way that¬†maintains my health and sanity.¬†I can recall a period about a year ago where I went for a month without painting, and it was the toughest month¬†I’ve had in a very long time.¬†The stress of my job crept into¬†every aspect of my life. I was always very tense and had¬†severe bouts of insomnia.¬†Painting is a fix that I require to prevent my¬†medical career from taking over my life completely.

That last answer is a little dramatic, but it’s 100% true.¬† I don’t know what I would be doing or what my life would be like right now if I wasn’t an artist.


Jacob Aguiar, "Marsh Golds," pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in
Jacob Aguiar, “Marsh Golds,” pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in


I hope you’ll give painting the sunset a try! It can be challenging, but the results are well worth the effort. Happy painting.




Thank you Jacob for sharing your works and process with us! Time to start painting a sunset me thinks.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us – are you inspired to paint sunsets? What’s been holding you back? What’s the main thing you learnt on this post? We’d LOVE to hear what you have to say so please leave a¬† comment.


Until next time,

~ Gail


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50 thoughts on “Jacob Aguiar – On Painting The Glory Of Sunsets”

  1. I really enjoyed this article and the work of Jacob Aguiar. I understand fully why his sunsets appeal to you – they are superb.
    The idea of starting with a warm orange underpainting makes a lot of sense and I look forward to using this approach to tackle a series of photos of a sunset series that I took in Newfoundland a few years ago.
    Thanks for sharing your process with us Jacob.

  2. What a great post! I have a lot of sunset photos taken with the idea of them being both finished photos in their own right and reference material for pastels (now that I’ve just started exploring them). For reference, I bracket my exposures as I’m sure Jacob does. An exposure that the camera recommends will wash out the sky. Take that photo for reference of the ground and trees or whatever your no-sky subject is. Stop it down one mark on your camera screen (that is, underexpose) and take photo. Continue this until you’ve taken a photo that’s 3 stops or marks underexposed. You should have 4 photos. Each time you underexpose, you get more color and detail in your sky and lose definition and detail in the non-sky portion. If you’re exploring composition variations, sometimes you can do this at the same time, depending on what elements of your composition you’re altering.
    Occasionally you’ll find one of your photos to be exactly right as a stand alone photo. It may still be difficult to paint from if you need detail that you can’t see in that photo though.

    The explanation of how to paint a sunset in pastels included in this post has given me information that should be very helpful once I get more comfortable handling pastels. I’m still pretty clumsy. :-}
    Thank you so much! This post is going my my favorites file!

    1. Debbie thanks for all the useful tips on bracketing while photographing. I’ll add that you can do something similar on a smart phone by turning on HDR. Not quite as complete but does something similar to what you describe.
      Glad you found Jacob’s info helpful. Happy to know it’s going in your “favourites” file ūüôā

  3. OMG!! This Artist is amazing. I love doing sunrises and now I am definitely going out to do sunsets. Jacob, your work is breath taking. Each painting is absolutely dazzling. You have given me some good advice so that when I go out instead of trying to keep up with changing light I am going to take my chair and sit and do color swatches to go with my photos and work it together in my studio. With practice I may get good enough and fast enough to do it in Plein Aire. Thank you so much, many times over for helping me get some insight on how this works. You are a great inspiration.

    1. Whoo hoo Janet, I can see you are bowled over by Jacob’s work and that makes me happy!! I too LOVE the idea of the colour swatches. A great combo with a sketch and notes for back in the studio. Super you’ve been so inspired!

  4. Jacob Aguair is one of my favorite pastel artists. I was thrilled to see that he wrote a blog here! Every time I speed through FB his work stops me cold. It is so full of life and I am grateful to see his process, which was very interesting. Thank you for posting this. What a wonderful read, and what magnificent work!

    1. Carol I know what you mean about being stopped cold by Jacob’s work – each and every one! (Same goes for your work just by the way.) So glad you enjoyed the article.

  5. Wow, beautiful paintings! It’s all about the light isn’t it? Just yesterday, while walking the dog in the park, I noticed the wonderful silvery colour of light bouncing off a small branch of leaves. Thank you Gail, your blogs have woken my brain up to notice tiny light and colour details.

    1. Yes, it is about the light! Mary-Anne I LOVE that you’ve shared what you saw on your walk. You are seeing with your artist eyes ūüôā So glad these blogs have opened them up!

  6. Lovely lovely pastels, Gail, and how frustrated I am to see that this gentleman has only been using pastels for about 5-6 years! I’ve been using them for almost 30 and my work is nowhere near as polished as his! Grrrrrr!!! However……..putting aside the devil’s horns and green jealousy, I have to say I’ll be back here for another closer read, later on today…..he has some very useful approaches here that appeal to me; I always like to see others’ techniques. Making colour swatches outdoors, rather than trying to actually paint the scene….now that’s a good one; also using a real warm colour pastel for underpainting. Great stuff, lots to learn.

    1. Chris, I get where you’re coming from about the short number of years Jacob has been working with pastels!! And yet, so much to share with us from his short time painting. Glad you picked up some good tips here.

  7. From time to time spectacular sunsets can be seen from my front door. I must have hundreds of pictures from all different times of the year. But the few times I’ve tried to capture them with pastels, they lose the spectacularity, and feel stiff and unnatural. Probably my color choices are wrong, probably I try to copy too literally. Next time I’ll try to copy what I feel, which is much what Jacob has done.

    1. I totally get the number of photos you have of sunsets Maria. Sounds like me! Look forward to seeing what you come up with after reading Jacob’s blog. Let’s see some before and after in the Facebook Page on Throwback Thursday!

  8. Thank you Jacob and Gail for this inspiring article. I recognize so many issues and processes here, it helps me as I am returning home to the North Country under very grey skies and a month away from the studio. As usual , just the kickstart need to race to the studio instead of doing all the travel laundry.
    Thank you.

  9. This man “spoke to me!!!! Not only do I love painting skies…storms, sunsets, clouds… but I was a nurse and I have known so many medical people connected to the arts so I also understand his feelings! His words and pictures inspired me to do more plein aire skies. His work is stunning!!! I will follow him ! Thanks Gail for finding him!!

    1. You are sooooo welcome Yvonne. Jacob is indeed a treasure and I was delighted to feature him as a guest blogger. Love your enthusiasm and look forward to seeing those plein air skies!

  10. Wow! Thank you so much for this!
    It really is inspirational in the true sense of the word, that is to say I’m going to use the linked video and his own tips and progression as a model to have a go myself.
    Jacob’s work is beautiful.

    1. Fantastic Lindsey!! Yes, Jacob’s work is indeed inspirational.
      I look forward to seeing some of your experiments in the Facebook group ūüôā

  11. What a fantastic, helpful post! I have been in awe of Jacob’s work for awhile. Thank you for seeking him out as a guest blogger and much gratitude to him for being so generous explaining his process! I will be doing color swatches and searching out the Laster video!

    1. Super to hear Kathy. I know, the whole colour swatch tip is brilliant isn’t it?! Jacob is such a busy man so I was so pleased he agreed to guest blog!

    1. It is an awesome tip isn’t it. When you know it, it seems so obvious…just like zippers and scotchtape and smartphones to name a couple of things we’d be hard pressed to do without ūüėČ

  12. Thanks, Gail, for showcasing Jacob’s lovely work. As you mentioned, his sunsets are quite spectacular in the way he captures the light. I must say though that his Sunstruck #2 really hits the spot, for me at least.
    Could I ask a rather dull question? Here in the U.K. alcohol is not available for the use Jacob describes. Is there any reason that water would be less effective?
    Thanks again for the inspiration.

    1. Hi David, glad you enjoyed Jacob’s guest blog. The one thing I know about alcohol is that it dries very fast, unlike water. But I’ll let Jacob answer your question.

  13. A few years back I did a sunset painting that I liked, but didn’t love. It was a combination of a San Diego sunset that I witnessed and took umpteen photos of, and a British shoreline with interesting rocks. The sunset reference photos were soooooo orange, as were my memories, that I put all that color into the painting. After reading this post I now know why I don’t love it – it is too garish. I may re-visit or I may just move on, and use what I’ve learned.

    1. Brenda you got it! Sunsets awe us with all their gorgeous colours and we are tempted to put them all into our paintings. We need to find a way of showing that feeling of colour without including them all! We’ll be interested to see how it affects your sunset paintings ūüôā

  14. I chose the third challenge and tried my own version of Jacob’s Winter Glare. I’m not a user of under-paintings, but went ahead and tried the red-orange. I had a wonderful time playing with the light on the water and the snow–I seldom paint this loose and had a ball dabbing colors here and there. His original plus his other works are outstanding. Thanks so much, Gail, for sharing his blog…and thank you, Jacob, for taking the time to share your beautiful work with us.

    1. That’s great Wendy! I’m so glad you are playing around and experimenting with new ways of painting. Can’t wait to see it!
      For those who aren’t in the HowToPastel Facebook group (and I encourage you to join), we have a Friday weekly challenge. The challenge for this week is inspired by Jacob’s blog on sunsets and one of the options, along with creating a sunset from sources you have, is to copy Jacob’s step-by-step painting and see where it takes you.

  15. A very enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing Jacob’s work. I also am mesmerized by sunsets and sunrise. I even wrote a blog about sunrise! I am anxious to dig through my sunset photos and try Jacobs red orange underpainting approach.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it Susan! Why not share a link to your blog about sunrise? Look forward to hearing what happens when you try Jacob’s method!

  16. Thank you thank you for this fabulous blog post about Jacob Aguiar’s work! Have forwarded it to many artist friends. I paint mainly with oils but Gail, your terrific blog is inspiring me to crack open my pastel box again.

    1. That’s just super to hear Diane – the liking the post, the sharing it with artist friends, and the inspiring you to get out your pastels again!!

  17. I was so inspired by this post I did a re-creation of a favorite painting of Susan M Story’s pastel painting called “Evening Blush” found in the October 2015 issue of the Pastel Journal!
    I did it on the cardboard backing of a Canson’s watercolor pad primed with Artspectrum pastel and multimedia sanded primer in the color Aubergine. It’s a beautiful dark grayish purple perfect for contrasting the bright colors! I used Rembrandt artists pastel as they are harder and lay down thinly then I built up to more buttery, velvety softer pastel like Jack Richeson artist’s hand-rolled pastels and SpectraFix workable fixative with Casein spray as it’s the only brand that doesn’t change my colors after it’s completely dried!
    Click here to see my painting.

    1. Hey Jason, thanks for your comment. Love that you were so inspired by the post that you did your own version of Susan Story’s painting. Love your luscious description of paper and pastels!

  18. Aguiar’s description of his process is more thorough and expressive than the notes on technique of which many other pasteists are capable! What a blessing for us.

    While his description is wonderful, perhaps he’s made a video of himself at work too. Do you know if thete is an instructional video? Getting to a workshop would be a physical challenge.

    Sarah Antin

    1. So glad you found Jacob’s blog post so helpful Sarah.
      I’m sorry to say I don’t know of a video showing Jacob in action. But if you leave him your request on his website, maybe one of these days we will get one!!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years ‚Äď old and new. Please enjoy!

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