Glow in the Snow: Paint Watercolor Christmas Lights

There is something heartwarming about old-fashioned string lights during the holidays. The hue each light presents on the surface its glow radiates to, the color of the lights in themselves can bring back many childhood memories of welcoming homes and living rooms.

A fun and easy holiday project for anyone is painting radiating string lights.

A simple wash of the color hue over and around the bulb with the more deeply saturated color of the little light within can sweeten up your home-crafted holiday cards or a simple little painting to give as a gift.

Step 1. Create your composition

I have chosen a puppy tangled in the lights. For this simple piece, I am only going to mask off the actual light bulbs to be sure that no background color flows on to them.

Step 2. Fill the background

Fill in your background color, trying not to saturate the area around the bulbs. They will be radiating the hue given off by each light bulb.

If you are unsure that you will be able to control wet watercolors as much as you need to, a very light pencil line may help you keep aware of the areas you need to avoid saturating. A masking medium over the whole “glow” area might make too stark of a line to look natural. Just try to blend the color fading to no color around the bulbs.

You will be surprised how much the final details of a painting can make up for any imperfections at this stage, so try not to panic if it doesn't look perfect.

There was a time when any seeming missteps at the early stage of a painting caused me to overly try to correct them. This often didn't help or sometimes made it worse. I learned the hard way to just try to trust that these imperfections will work out as the painting progresses.

Step 3. Lighting the lights

Lay your color hue over and around each bulb. I am using old-fashioned, multi-color string lights so I made sure I kept a repetition of the order of colors along the string.

While doing this, I tried to blend a little of the harder color lines in the background as much as possible.

Step 4. Saturate each bulb 

Finish up the effect by painting each bulb, matching color of the hue in its order on the string.

Paint the string itself, too. I used the typical dark green these lights usually come in.

Tip: I did not use masking fluid on the actual string the lights are placed on here. Some things work better unmasked. Thin lines that are masked before painting can often have a lot of jagged edges when the medium is removed.

Unless you are painting a very dark background that would obscure small or thin unmasked details beyond redemption, it is cleaner and saves a lot of tidying up after to just color right over them.

As you can see below, the color of the floor did not override the darker green I was to use on the string. This made it a nice clean finish.*

Can you share methods for illumination effects with paints?

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November 28, 2014
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Glow in the Snow: Paint Watercolor Christmas Lights