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How-Tuesday: Sun Painting

Apr 26, 2011

by Julie Schneider handmade and vintage goods

My mom and I have been crafting together for as long as I can remember. Our craft endeavors have covered a lot of ground over the years: dyeing Easter eggs, marbling paper with plastic straws, making tissue paper stained glass windows, sculpting beeswax figurines, baking bread in the shape of bears, knitting socks, quilting, bookbinding prep for craft fairs, and the list goes on. Making things with my mom, who still insists that she is not an artist or a quilter or any such title, is a fun and formative part of my life. I suspect that other mothers and their progeny relish this sort of creative time together too. I invite you to share in a creative project with a classy lady this Mother’s Day, and see where it leads you! Nika Knight, a fellow Etsy staffer, and her mother, Salley Knight, have compiled this sunny day fiber arts project, perfect to answer this call.

While my younger siblings and I were growing up, I remember my mother, a fabric artist, as someone who was always brimming with projects to keep us creating alongside her. One of her most successful ideas was “sun painting.” Painting rough canvas in the bright July sun; carefully setting leaves, flower petals, and oddly-shaped branches across the wet paint; waiting for the hot sun to sear their shapes into the sharply-colored cloth — this is one of my favorite childhood memories. Sun painting uses a special paint that grows darker and more vivid when exposed to UV rays. Blocking the sunlight by laying two-dimensional shapes on top of the painted canvas leaves a lighter imprint of those shapes in the midst of the swaths of color. The process of sun painting is intriguing whether you’re 5 or 50, and a fun project with beautiful results that you can create with kids of any age.

As the days grow brighter and warmer, the season of sun painting is upon us. I asked my mom to show me how to sun paint again, and we worked together to create a new sun painting to show all of you. While our day was a bit colder and grayer than we’d planned, I thought our results were still beautiful — and relying on something as fickle as the weather (especially in New England!) makes waiting for the results all the more unknowable and exciting.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Cloth (untreated or at least 50% natural fabric, pre-washed to remove any sizing)
  • Anything you love the shape of: natural materials such as leaves or flowers, or paper shapes you cut out yourself.
  • Setacolor transparent paint by Pebeo
  • Brushes
  • A flat board
  • Clear, strong tape
  • Iron
  • A flat outdoor surface in a sunlit area
  • A hot and sunny day
  • If it’s windy, some small rocks or other small heavy objects to hold your sun-blocking shapes in place.


1. Lay your cloth down on the flat board, and tape the corners of the cloth to the board. You’ll want to stretch out the cloth a bit, and hold it in place.

2. Either:

  • Dilute the paint 2:1 with water,


  • Wet the entire cloth before you begin painting, to work “wet on wet” — similar to how you might paint with watercolors.

3. Paint the colors onto the fabric any way you’d like. Like watercolors, the different colors will mix and bleed where they touch or overlap.

4. Arrange your shapes (leaves, flowers, branches, paper cut-outs…) on top of the painted cloth to create the design you want.

5. Use rocks or any small weights that aren’t larger than a shape’s borders to hold down fly-away items in windy conditions. (It was a very windy day when we sun painted— we had a lot of rocks holding everything down!)

6. Carry the whole arrangement to the brightest warmest light you can find.

7. Once dry, retrieve your piece of canvas and remove the sun-blocking shapes. The areas of cloth that were blocked from the sun should be lighter than the surrounding color.

8. Iron the cloth for 3-5 minutes to set the color. All done!

If you try out sun painting, please share a photo in our How-Tuesday Flickr group. What is your favorite craft to do with your mom? Share your story in the comments below!

Natural Dye Tutorial | More How-Tuesday Posts


  • EllaBands

    EllaBands said 6 years ago

    You sound like my mom and me! Ha! I am going to try this... I'm a camp counselor during the summer and I'd like to try this with my campers. Thanks for sharing! :) Melissa

  • dabsh01

    dabsh01 said 6 years ago

    I can't wait to try this... seems like a intersting activity...

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Fascinating technique! I really do think crafting can bring people together, its often more about those experiences and time we spend together in life thats really valuable.

  • windrosie

    windrosie said 6 years ago

    Beautiful technique...Thanks for sharing!

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 6 years ago

    fab ideas and beautiful photos! xox

  • StudioZen

    StudioZen said 6 years ago

    What a fun project!! I hope to see the sun again one day...

  • baltica

    baltica said 6 years ago

    I've always wanted to try this technique but never quite knew how to go about it. Thanks for the great tutorial! Now, if when will the sun come out in Seattle :-)

  • LakesEdge

    LakesEdge said 6 years ago

    I can't wait to try this out, thanks for the how-to. It reminds me of a place called "Hazel Green Academy" in Eastern Kentucky that I went to as a kid, it had basket weaving, mandolin lessons, & paper marbling. Sorry, reminiscing, lol, thanks :)

  • needleyou

    needleyou said 6 years ago

    i'm gonna give this a try w/ my kids. thanks : )

  • JasmineLund

    JasmineLund said 6 years ago

    Wow, that's so awesome!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 6 years ago

    i have heard about this stuff. we used to have something similar but in paper. real fun. thanks how tuesday

  • callmemimi

    callmemimi said 6 years ago

    Wonderful idea and technique ! Many thanks for sharing !

  • diamonddixie

    diamonddixie said 6 years ago

    A beautiful way to hit the "sun-time" road! Can't wait to try this project, thank you..:)

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 6 years ago

    Great idea, something I have not heard of. Thank u for sharing & I can't wait to try it!

  • iWALLS

    iWALLS said 6 years ago

    This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  • cjbcollectibles

    cjbcollectibles said 6 years ago

    Looks like a fun project to do on a sunny day. Thanks for sharing.

  • rebourne

    rebourne said 6 years ago

    This will be my second mother's day without my mama. She taught me all I know! Perhaps I will start a craft tradition with my littles on mother's day!

  • WereRabbit2006

    WereRabbit2006 said 6 years ago

    Very Wonderful idea, a lot of sunshine here ;)

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 6 years ago

    Wow. What a great idea! I can't wait to try this. Great project to mix with found objects from nature! :-)

  • VidGirlsandDolls

    VidGirlsandDolls said 6 years ago

    Very nice ! So much we learn from our mom.

  • NaturalPetProducts

    NaturalPetProducts said 6 years ago

    awesome!!!!!!!!!!!! would love to try it ....=^^=

  • tennyoceres

    tennyoceres said 6 years ago

    I remember doing this in kindergarten. Young minds were blown away when we did this for art class.

  • KathyGDesigns

    KathyGDesigns said 6 years ago

    Brings back a good memory! I did this as a brownie scout with my mom quite a few years ago.

  • BumbleBeesGiftBox

    BumbleBeesGiftBox said 6 years ago

    I have never heard of sun painting before. I love the finished look of it.

  • BooPatch

    BooPatch said 6 years ago

    so doing this with my kids... :-) what a fun mom!

  • keepthesugar

    keepthesugar said 6 years ago

    I can't believe that i've never heard of sun painting! I am trying this on my very next sunny day! Thanks so much for the step by step!

  • scarywhitegirl

    scarywhitegirl said 6 years ago

    There was a paper available in the 80s that did the same thing, though it started white and turned blue where exposed to sun. I used to love playing with that stuff! Awesome to know there's still a way to do it! :)

  • rainbeauxcraft

    rainbeauxcraft said 6 years ago

    Fun technique and I love the outdoors, so win-win! Hey, I remember the sun paper too. I've got some around here somewhere I think... *rummages* Thanks for the article and beautiful outdoor pics!

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 6 years ago

    I always loved craft time at home with my Mom. Thank you for this article! :)

  • TCaponePhoto

    TCaponePhoto said 6 years ago

    Fun idea :) If it ever stops raining in Chicago I might have to try this. Thanks for sharing!

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 said 6 years ago

    my kids and I just did this recently with the "sun paper" - beautiful and delicate (and fun!) art was created

  • RedorGrayArt

    RedorGrayArt said 6 years ago

    what a wonderful relationship with mom and art!!

  • SacredSymbolStudios

    SacredSymbolStudios said 6 years ago

    Neat idea and story, thanks for sharing!

  • ChrissiesRibbons

    ChrissiesRibbons said 6 years ago

    So pretty! Lovely story too. Will definitely be trying this

  • JudiPaintedit

    JudiPaintedit said 6 years ago

    Love the paintings

  • Jaclynscollections

    Jaclynscollections said 6 years ago

    It's so nice to hear about other artists spending time with their moms! Gorgeous work!

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing I'll have to try this with my grand kids.

  • FiberContent

    FiberContent said 6 years ago

    Love that, Julie! We should do that together someday! I think I will try that with my class.

  • VitalVintage

    VitalVintage said 6 years ago

    That sounds like fun. I think I'll make a tablecloth for my patio table with leaves from the backyard.

  • jewelrybyjackie

    jewelrybyjackie said 6 years ago

    This looks awesome! I will definitely be trying this out!

  • FranceGallery

    FranceGallery said 6 years ago

    Looks like a fun painting project to try!

  • exclusivelyhannah

    exclusivelyhannah said 6 years ago

    looks like fun!!! I love being crafty with my mom!

  • CoolWaterGems

    CoolWaterGems said 6 years ago

    Great idea - we will have to try it! :)


    APOCALIPSTICKART said 6 years ago

    Neat...I've never seen this done with watercolors! I have only used light sensitive cyanotype solution that is hard to come by! I think that cyanotype is what most of you guys are referring to with the light-sensitive paper from the 80's. It is actually a very early form of photography. You can use large film negatives or x-rays too...I am excited to try them with this technique!

  • CreationsByDanielle

    CreationsByDanielle said 6 years ago

    My Mom, Dad & Grandma all shaped me into the crafty person I am today :) Thanks for this! Makes me want to try this!

  • nightbuffalo

    nightbuffalo said 6 years ago

    This is such a wonderful idea! Can't wait to try it with my daughter! Many thanks!

  • coffeedripsart

    coffeedripsart said 6 years ago

    that's awesome! lovely pictures. pretty darn good idea:)

  • wisdomacres

    wisdomacres said 6 years ago

    How cool! I did sun painting as a little girl with some kind of kit. This looks like a lot of fun, and we'd like to try our hand at it! Thanks! Your post was so informative!

  • PinwheelStudio

    PinwheelStudio said 6 years ago

    What a neat feature! Love hearing about fun moms and daughters :)

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 6 years ago


  • oldworldapothecary

    oldworldapothecary said 6 years ago

    LOVE IT!!!

  • MadeWithFaithAndLove

    MadeWithFaithAndLove said 6 years ago

    These are really neat, I myself have always done crafts with my children and I have never heard about or seen these.

  • dragonflymystdesigns

    dragonflymystdesigns said 6 years ago

    I need to try this again. I have the paints in my stash of craft things. I have done just about everything that you have mentioned by myself. My mother did a few crafts and my daughter had no interest in doing them, but I love to try a lot of new different crafts.

  • LiveLoveCapture

    LiveLoveCapture said 6 years ago

    What a great idea! I bet my little girls would love to do this! I think we'll have to try it this summer!

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 6 years ago

    My mother and I craft together as well. Love this story.

  • kristygreathouse

    kristygreathouse said 6 years ago

    Can't wait to try this!! Thanks for sharing!!

  • girliepains

    girliepains said 6 years ago

    Pretty cool!

  • urbandon

    urbandon said 6 years ago

    What a great technique. Wonderful results!

  • joyinmystudio

    joyinmystudio said 6 years ago

    I loved reading about this! Have been curious about sun painting for quite some time. I will need to give it a try with my silk dyes, I wonder if they will have the same reaction? :) Take care!

  • onewintrynight

    onewintrynight said 6 years ago

    Oh, how cool . . . I'm gonna try it!

  • RoyalFelt

    RoyalFelt said 6 years ago

    This is beautiful!

  • beadsofaquarius

    beadsofaquarius said 6 years ago


  • sykin

    sykin said 6 years ago

    beautiful! I wish Washington got more sun - I may have to try this in a sunny window, rather than outside (the risk of scattered showers is just far too great).

  • joyscottglass

    joyscottglass said 6 years ago

    Sounds like fun

  • joyscottglass

    joyscottglass said 6 years ago

    Sounds like fun

  • julessabjewelry

    julessabjewelry said 6 years ago

    This looks like so much fun! I'm gonna try it.

  • JoviesJewels

    JoviesJewels said 6 years ago

    wonderful, I want to try thay with my daughter, she will love it!

  • GiftCreation

    GiftCreation said 6 years ago

    Interesting idea!:)

  • stepbackink

    stepbackink said 6 years ago

    Great idea to try on a sunny day or may be not so sunny :)

  • GinnArt

    GinnArt said 6 years ago

    Wow...I remember doing this when I was a kid! Great memories!

  • loretta9243

    loretta9243 said 6 years ago

    Can't wait to try it with my daughter and son. Sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks so much!

  • loretta9243

    loretta9243 said 6 years ago

    Can't wait to try it with my daughter and son. Sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks so much!

  • CreationsdeFlorence

    CreationsdeFlorence said 6 years ago

    This is so cool. I knew rain painting but not sun painting. Thank you for sharing!

  • BeadazzledBySharon

    BeadazzledBySharon said 6 years ago

    Looks exciting!

  • marykerran

    marykerran said 6 years ago

    At my age, if I haven't done it, I need to. Sounds like a great project when our sun comes out.

  • ApplewoodHandwovens

    ApplewoodHandwovens said 6 years ago

    This is a wonderful project especially being able to do it with 'Mom', having more great moments to remember.

  • nfractal

    nfractal said 6 years ago

    This sounds like a great project...I teach young kids and I know they would love would my little boy:)....Some one else mentioned rain painting...that sounds cool also. I live on Maui so we often get rain/sun/rainbows so we could try all and see which one works best:) nathalie

  • nerina52

    nerina52 said 6 years ago

    I see this article just now ... I have a little time to wander around in etsy ... thanks for the "tapestry handmade embroidery SUN"! very interesting technique, new to me ... it seems perfect to stimulate creativity! I learned a lot -everything!- very young, 4-5 years, watching my mom embroider the clothes he was doing to my brother and me, the beautiful tablecloths ... Thanks mom!

  • eknobbe

    eknobbe said 6 years ago

    would this work on clothing?? I'd love to try it out for some t-shirts :)

  • JoJosArtisticDesign

    JoJosArtisticDesign said 6 years ago

    Dear Julie, When I read your intro to the Sun Painting tutorial it was so heart warming to hear a young person speak with such admiration for their mother. The relationship you have with your Mother is unique and I can say that I have the same sort of relationship with my daughter. When she was young we had a daily craft project or worked on one that sometimes took days. We were unique in that we loved creating things we needed rather than going to our local store. I wish we had lived in a neighborhood with a other crafters because in our small mountain community people often turned their noses up at us. Crafting with my daughter provided more than interesting artifacts, but gave a little girl and a woman the best friendship for which a mother could hope. Bless you for mentioning your mother and perhaps showing this next generation of mothers the beautiful relationship they can have with their children through crafting, JoJo

  • MsMaddie

    MsMaddie said 6 years ago

    woah very cool

  • zJayne

    zJayne said 6 years ago

    Love this, the sentiment, the technique and sharing it! Thank you~

  • PoetryofObjects

    PoetryofObjects said 6 years ago

    My daughter and I have a relationship like this. She's 23 now. I wished we had lived near you in your mountains! We both love making things. I really like the riot of colors on your fabric. We love making banners for celebrations at our homeplace...this will be a great technique to try. Thanks for sharing a peek into your life and your loves....

  • christymades

    christymades said 6 years ago

    My daughter and I have a relationship that has been close since she is deaf and we are always needing each other. Creative juice must run in family veins because we both love working on making pretty, funny and useful things. The first thing she ever made was a boiled egg at two years of age because trying learn to talk was to hard. Her eye for porportion, and color is just great. While I have been a floral designer, sales and have always known the sewing and needleart skills since I learned them from my Mom . It just seemed natural to turn to this form of expersion after retiring but marketing them on the internet is new and we are having great fun trying. We also got our daddy(husband) into the fun since he retired from sheet metal working. Hope we get to be as good as you and others at the internet marketing and wish for your continued success.

  • flippingout

    flippingout said 6 years ago

    How is it unique that you like to make things instead of buying them?

  • dfnilsson

    dfnilsson said 6 years ago

    Wonderful idea. For those living in less sunny places, would placing the art under a light bulb for a couple of hours create the same effect the sun does? It might be worth a try. I might suggest this to some Scout troups or even Seniors with much time in their lives.

  • TashaJudithDESIGNS

    TashaJudithDESIGNS said 6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this:)

  • HomemadeByMrsB

    HomemadeByMrsB said 6 years ago

    Like so many other Etsy members, I was fortunate enough to have a crafting Mom. We did all kinds of crafts together. It is such a great way to share time together. Now I am a mom of 2 girls and I see I've turned into my mom! My younger daughter "flakes out" and never finishes any craft, its just not her thing. My older daughter is more interested and is asking to learn to crochet, I think its time to get started on that! Oh, just yesterday I came home to find my Mom at the kitchen table doing a craft :) Thanks for sharing your story.

  • lulouandada

    lulouandada said 6 years ago

    This is sweet. I can't wait to try it out.

  • ArtworkzByCheri

    ArtworkzByCheri said 6 years ago beautiful..never heard of this before and it sounds very exciting! thank you for sharing this .I intend to put it on my to do list May God bless!

  • queenducky

    queenducky said 6 years ago

    Hot California sun should do the trick. I'm so trying this.

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