Techniques Used in Acrylic Galaxies

Techniques Used in Acrylic Galaxies

If you live in an area without too much light pollution, I’m sure you get to see the Milky Way on a fairly regular basis. Another source of inspiration, if you’re thinking about making one of the trending acrylic galaxy paintings, is NASA’s “astronomy picture of the day,” which can be found on the official NASA site.

Though it would be futile to try to accurately render ours or any other galaxy -painting a very realistic looking galaxy is actually pretty easy! So here’s a list of acrylic painting techniques you likely already know that will help you create a galactic masterpiece!


Layering paint is a very basic technique and it’s vital for producing the most realistic galaxy paintings. The first layer is black, of course—or something very close—as it will be the background. Then onto the dust and gases using the dabbing technique we talk about below. Whatever colors you’d like. If you allow your acrylic paint to fully dry before moving on to another color, you can create a light veil over the previous color. If you move quickly from one color paint to the next while it’s still wet, you can subtly blend the colors directly on your canvas.

Retrieved from Instagram: painting_thestars

Dabbing is a technique that gives an image dimension. It is done by applying the paint to your canvas with a light “dabbing” motion, as the name implies. It is a great way to achieve the “milky” quality we see when we look at clusters of stars from a distance. Use a thick round brush for the best results. Many people prefer using a sponge to dab the paint for that milky effect, rather than a brush. The choice is yours.

Retrieved from Instagram: painting_thestars

Your next layer will be the stars, of which there are hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone—but no one will be counting. To create realistic stars, water down your white paint and use the splattering technique by tapping the handle of your brush to get those droplets over the painting. You can also use your finger to catapult the brush hairs and splatter the page - this method of "splattering" isn't the neatest option. Try concentrating most of the speckles in a line to create the illusion of a disc/spiral at an angle.

Finally, depending on the colors you have handy, mixing colors might be a good idea to get the desired purples, pinks, and blues of the various nebulae in your galaxy. You can achieve a lot with mixing. The Impressionist painters were masters at mixing colors, and their experimentations with color brought us tricks for achieving the colors we find in nature, while still working with a limited palette. It couldn’t hurt to brush up on your Color Theory and give it a shot.

That being said, this isn’t a water lily pond—and if mixing cosmic colors is intimidating to you, know that many of the colors you see in an image of space are added later by scientists. They do this either to map important details, or to attempt to render what the human eye can’t see. The colors aren’t real so you can’t go wrong!

By Rae Quinn 


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