Note that this article assumes you already know basic watercolor techniques. I’m going to gloss over the basics and assume you know them. So if I don’t go into detail for everything, that’s why.
I always use the moon as a background prop and a source of light. I’ve never really painted it as itself.
However, I can at least explain how I paint the moon with watercolor.
First, let’s make sure we’re legal. All my images on this entire site were shot by me unless otherwise specified. Whenever I post something not shot by me, I make sure I have legal authority to do this.
This may sound hoaky to some but I don’t care. I always try to do the right thing, even if no one is watching.
So let’s use a picture for reference. If you’re a good photographer, shoot the moon yourself and use it as a reference. My photography is mediocre, so I’ll use someone else’s.
I got the above moon from a user Tom Ruen from Wikipedia. It’s licensed Creative Commons so that means I can legally use it. I just have to give our new friend Tom the credit.
Paint the moon with watercolor
I’ll take that picture and draw it with pencil, then ink it. Then, I’ll use only one color. I really think monochromatic painting is the way to go when you paint the moon with watercolor. It gives it that moon look.
You could give it more. But I don’t. I intentionally keep it at this level.
Also note that the drawing is fast. I didn’t go into full detail. It doesn’t look exactly like Tom’s photograph.
If you want to, more power to you. But that’s not the focus of my painting. My focus are always the girls since I’m a fantasy pinup artist, not an astronomer.
Now the technique is very simple. Paint in the part that’s darker using a monochromatic technique. Keep the rest white.
The white will make the moon stand out more. It’s after all your light source for the painting.
For the actual color of the moon, use a more “neutral” color like Payne’s Gray. In this case, I really watered down indigo.
Note the trick of depth. It looks like some parts are deeper than others. The moon is 3D in real life after all. It’s not just a flat circle in the sky.
Once again, if you don’t know what monochromatic painting is, you need to read that article and practice the exercise. It explains in depth how to paint with only one color.
And that’s the key word there – depth. You want your moon to have depth to it. Some crevices are deeper than others. Let all your watercolor techniques work in your favor. Think the farther away from the lines, the deeper the craters. You can note how deep or how shallow the craters are in my picture very easily. That’s one of the most important parts of making the moon look like the moon.
You can exaggerate the depth like I do, or you can make it more realistic like Tom’s photograph. That’s up to you.
I do fantasy. My moon has really deep craters. It may even have scary creatures like Georges Méliès’s 1902 movie.
Even if you make the moon your central focus point, you can still use exactly what I said. Don’t paint the white part and monochrome the rest. Simply draw it with a lot more detail. You can choose to make it as realistic or as fantasy as you want. That all depends on your watercolor style.