I recently got a space art commission from a collector in California for a Butterfly Nebula painting. I decided to take some work-in-progress shots along the way to give a tutorial as to how these nebula paintings are created.
I began with a dark purple/black/blue/green mixed ground, applied thickly all over the canvas. Then, with a 0 spot detailing brush, I began sketching out the shape of the nebula in burnt orange (made of cadmium yellow and napthol crimson), smudging it to create a wispy, cloudy effect. For all of the nebulaic areas at this point I mixed my acrylic pigments with a lot of Acrylic Glazing Medium to thin out the paint smoothly and apply glazes.
After applying the first orange layer, I continued to layer thin glazes in different patterns over the orange layer using different colours, starting with phthalo blue.
At this point, I added in a dark mix of dioxazine purple and payne’s grey to alter the shape and make the nebula more transparent and cloudy.
I added in soft blue highlights with a dry brush and very little pigment.
Finally, I painted in the stars using toothpicks and a spot detailing brush, as well as a signature. This picture is the only one in this set that doesn’t have terrible glare; the dark ground was quite shiny due to the medium I used. I plan to use matte medium in my background next time.
I used small toothpicks for the tiny stars, and a mixture of pink, yellow, blue and white in various stars, using various sizes and darker or brighter pigment to give the impression of distance. I did not use glazing medium for the stars.