Painting the sea, people and birds with watercolor

Painting the sea

Now the sand is done we will now look at painting the sea.

Using the same mix of watercolor paints but make sure the consistency is stronger than that used for the sky; we use a dry brush technique to paint the water.

I use the point of my brush to establish the horizon line and then use the side of the brush with quick horizontal dry brush strokes to create the sea and waves.

I add a little clean water to the mix in my brush for the foreground water and waves.

The trick is to leave just enough untouched white patches in the sea area that they look like the white of waves. If you have too many, the sea looks very choppy, not enough white and it looks too calm or maybe like a lake.

Painting the sea with watercolor

Figure 8: Painting the sea with watercolor

This watercolor painting is nearly finished now, once we paint the figures.

Painting small figures

To paint these people, figure 9, start by using an almost buttery mixture of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna (learning towards the brown) to paint the head, arms, and legs. Notice the legs are drawn with dry brush strokes that are of different lengths, this is done to give them the feeling of motion.

If both legs are touching the sand with sharp edges, the figures will look stationary.

Then use the same mixture with some more blue added for the shorts.

For their shirts I use a weak tea strength mixture of these two colors and shade in the sides of their clothing away from the sun, some parts of the shirt are left untouched.  Notice that the shadows on the shirt are irregular to give the feeling of motion and surface variety.

Painting figures with watercolor paint walking along a sandy beach

Figure 9: Painting figures with watercolor paint

By using a quick semi dry brush stroke we can give the impression of sea weed on the sand. By giving it a bit of a curve we can more gracefully lead the eye into our painting, it also adds more interest to the sand.

The foreground rocks are painted with almost pure paint with just enough water for it to flow off the brush. Again remember to leave highlights. Also make sure the rocks vary in size or they will look unnatural and boring.

Before the rocks dry, get a damp brush and soften their edges here and there at their bases. This will help anchor them to the sand and not make them look like they were stuck on as an afterthought.

Watercolor painting of foreground rocks and sea weed

Figure 10: Watercolor painting of foreground rocks and sea weed

Now put in the birds in the sky. The key to this is to use birds as a device to direct the eye of the viewer where you would like it to go. Don’t just put them any old where. Also vary the space between the birds, their size and the angle of their wings.

Birds in the sky can also be used to add interest if the sky is looking a bit too plain and open.

The birds on the wet sand are painted by first putting a little flick of paint to represent a bird. Then under each bird, leave a little gap (for their legs which are too thin to show) and then place a little dab of the same colored paint underneath. You then get your finger and touch this dab and drag in down the page to create a little dry brush (with your finger) stroke under each bird – this should read like the birds reflection.

If you put these birds on the part of your painting which is supposed to be dry sand then they will not have a reflection, but will instead have a shadow that is away from the light source (usually the sun). Remember when painting reflections and shadows – reflections are towards the viewer or the bottom of the painting while shadows are away for the source of light in your landscape (usually the sun).

The shadow for the two figures is the last step in this painting, though it could have been done any time after the figures were painted in. A couple of quick irregular brush strokes starting from the figures legs and away from the direction of the sun with give their shadow and the painting is done!

Finished watercolor painting of simple beach scene

Figure 11: Finished watercolor painting of simple beach scene

As you can see, even with a relatively simple two color painting as this there are many steps to consider with a watercolor painting. By thinking through any of your paintings in this way, and deciding when to let various sections dry, what painting consistencies to use and what type of edge (wet on wet, dry brush, wet on dry, etc) to use where, you can tackle any watercolor painting with increased confidence.

You can find more simple demonstrations at this link: Simple watercolor painting demonstrations

Should you have any questions about this demonstration or watercolor painting in general please let me know through my Contact page.