Construction Paper Lighthouse Painting (and Fun with Optical Illusions!)

Art can be wonderfully relaxing and fulfilling, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. If you've ever tried to draw a friend's portrait or paint nature's beauty with any degree of accuracy or realism, you know that it is very, very difficult. The challenge is to replicate what you see, as opposed to what your brain tells you that you are seeing. 

Sometimes our brains are too smart for our own good. For example, what colors of paint would you reach for in order to paint the lighthouse in this image? 

Lighthouse Image

My brain is telling me that the lighthouse is actually white (with red accents), correcting for the fact that it is nighttime in the photograph. But if you want to paint the lighthouse as it appears at night, you need to reach for Paint B, the lavender. I sampled that shade directly from the right-hand side of the photograph. The lighthouse doesn't look lavender, but it is. 

Experiment with this by painting your own version of a lighthouse. While watercolor paper or a canvas might be your preferred surfaces for painting, this project works well on inexpensive black construction paper. That means this is an affordable project for the classroom or another group where canvases would be prohibitively expensive.


Construction Paper Lighthouse Painting


  • black construction paper
  • empty box
  • construction paper scraps
  • white mist
  • pencil
  • acrylic paint
  • flat brush
  • paint palette (frisbee!)


Place a piece of black construction paper in the empty box. Arrange scraps of construction paper over it so that only a narrow 'beam' of black is exposed. Spray this area lightly with the white mist. (I used Mr. Huey. This link and and the other in this post are affiliate links.)

Remove the scraps and you're left with the beam of light shining from what will be the lighthouse. I wasn't careful enough covering the black and ended up with a thin white horizon line that I hadn't intended. No problem - that just determined where my water line would be. 

Use a pencil to draw the outline of the lighthouse. Add a water line if you didn't accidentally end up with one!

Add paint to your palette. Remember, no white! No red either. The challenge is to paint what you see without the corrections your brain is trying to make. I used one color by Testors (Hazey) and four by Folk Art (Lavender, Licorice, Berry Wine, and Thunder Blue). 

Now, the MOST important thing about painting on construction paper: No water. None. Do not start with a moist brush, do not rinse your brush, do not use any water at any point. If you just use acrylic paint, the cheap construction paper will hold up just fine through dozens of layers of paint. But use a moist brush and it will disintegrate. 

With a DRY brush, use the lavender to shape the lighthouse you sketched. Add bits of blue and grey to add highlights and shadows horizontally. Do not rinse your brush between colors! Just keep adding layers of paint. You want the colors to blend. If you're not happy with how it looks, add another layer. Then another and another until you are.

Use the Berry Wine to paint the red portions of the lighthouse. Details aren't important - just add the shapes. Add a little Licorice to the brush, turn it vertically, and dab in the windows at the top of the lighthouse. Then add shadows below each of the 'red' areas.

Now add the land the lighthouse is sitting on. Just keep layering colors. 

Do not be tempted to rinse the brush! Part of what makes the painting more realistic is the depth that comes from using multiple colors. 

Make short horizontal strokes to create the ocean. This will take a lot of layers to look realistic. Highlight the area of the water where the lighthouse's beam is shining. 

This is how mine turned out. Not a masterpiece by any means, but a decent representation of a lighthouse at night. And a lot of fun to create.

I found a great resource for fun facts about lighthouses. I was researching which US state has the most lighthouses (Michigan is #1, Maine is #2) and learned so much more. Enjoy!


  1. I think that looks amazing! I would never have thought to use construction paper!!!

  2. Would bulletin board paper or poster board work if you want to make this a huge thing in the corner of your classroom?

    1. Yes, I'm sure it would. I'd choose a matte board and avoid the glossy posterboards.


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