How to Paint a Lightning Bolt

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Things You'll Need

  • Drawing pad

  • Pencil

  • Eraser

  • Canvas or wood painting surface

  • Acrylic gesso

  • Opaque water-based paint such as acrylic, tempera or gouache

  • Paint brushes (medium pointed round and medium filberts)

Real lightning differs significantly from the stylized likenesses, which are often displayed in popular culture.

In reality, lightning is a dramatic exchange of electrons, which can release an extraordinary amount of energy. Although difficult to produce a recorded image of a lightning bolt, representations of the common electrical phenomena can be found throughout contemporary culture. From high-powered race cars to comic books to advertising posters, symbolic representations of lightning bolts are a common fixture of our visual world. Painting a lightning bolt is not so much dependent on actual observation of the weather event, but rather an accumulation of visual data gathered from the wide array of artists' interpretations that have been produced over the course of art history.


Step 1

Execute a series of lightning bolt drawings in the sketch book. You can study how a lightning bolt is drawn in popular culture (tattoo designs and comic book depictions are excellent sources). The top of the bolt be should wide and the bottom should come to a point. One or both sides of the bolt should have jagged, zig-zagging edges, and the bolt might have three or more stages (zig-zags) as it goes from the wider top to the bottom point. Make several different drawings until you have a look and style that you are satisfied with.


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Step 2

Prep the painting surface. Paper shouldn't need any prep work, but canvas or wood can be primed with gesso.

Step 3

Let the gesso primer dry and then draw the outline of your lightning bolt on the surface with a pencil.


Step 4

Draw a second line parallel and just inside the outline of the lightning bolt. This will be an area of black paint, so keep the distance between the two lines small. Other options include using the only one line, when you create the dark border of the lightning bolt or leaving the darker fringe out of the design and just using one solid color to make the lightning bolt.


Step 5

Fill the area between the two parallel lines with a dark color. Black is most common, but a deep blue or dark umber might add more interest to the picture.

Step 6

Let the dark paint dry and then fill the large space that is inside the border with a solid bright-yellow color. On occasion a very warm orange, red or scarlet color can be used.


If using a lightning bolt as a decoration item, you should draw the shape first and then prime the area inside the line with gesso or a primer paint.

Many variations on this theme are possible.

The technique of forming a dark border to a distinct visual element is commonly referred to as "blacklining". It is common technique used in cartoons, modern art and graphic design, though it is rare in realistic painting. For a classic example of an artist who mastered the black line method, take a look at the works of Fernand Leger.


Realistic lightning bolts require a different drawing technique.


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