Painting the sand of our beach watercolor landscape

Painting the sand and pebbles

We can now tackle painting the sand and pebble area of our watercolor beach scene.

First step in painting the sand is to wet the area of the darkest area of sand with clean water. See figure 10, because the clear water is difficult to make out in the photograph I have marked the areas to wet in red.

Wet dark areas of the sand on beach prior to underpainting with watercolor
Figure 10: Wet dark areas of the sand on beach prior to underpainting with watercolor

Then into this drop in a mixture of Cobalt Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Add extra water to the distant area to make sure it is lighter than the foreground as in Figure 11.

Let this dry thoroughly!

Drop in Cobalt Blue and Alizarin mix in the pre wet area. This is the underpainting for the sand.
Figure 11: Drop in Cobalt Blue and Alizarin mix in the pre wet area.

In figure 12 you can see the premixed starting water colors for the sand. The watercolor paints used are: French Ultramarine, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna is varying consistencies. As you can see some mixtures lean to the violet and others towards the brown. These mixtures (especially the brown) have to be quite thick at about a creamy consistency as the sand contains some of the darkest tones in the painting.

Mix dark colors for sand and pebbles
Figure 12: Pre mix your starting sand watercolors

With the sand watercolors mixed, drop your easel down to about five degrees as can be seen in figure 13. This will allow the colors to flow but only a little.

Set watercolor painting easel to a low angle while painting the sand. About 5 degrees.
Figure 13: Drop your watercolor easel down to about five degrees.

Splatter some water in the bright area near the bottom of the painting. See figure 14.

In wet rock area splatter water before starting to splatter your watercolor paint
Figure 14: Splatter water in bright pebbly area of sand near the bottom

Follow this up by splattering some of the dark brown colored watercolor to create a variety of different shapes and tones as the splattered watercolors mix and mingle with the splattered water. This can be seen in figure 16. If you are not confident with your ability to use the splatter technique I suggest you cover the sky area with an old towel to protect it from stray splattered watercolor paint. See figure 15.

Cover dry sky area before you start splattering watercolor paint in area of pebbles on beach
Figure 15: Splatter the dark brown mix in the area of the water splatter. You can use an old towel to protect parts of your painting from stray splatter marks.

When splattering watercolor I hold the brush in my right hand (I am right handed) and gently tap it against the side of the index finger on my left hand. I also point the brush in the direction I want the splatter to go in. If you have not used this technique before it is a good idea to practice it on a scrap piece of paper until you get a feel for how much force is require to produce a particular splatter effect.

As soon as I have finished applying the splattered watercolor paint at the bottom of my painting I then quickly wet the distant sand area to just before the area of splatter. I don’t wet the distant sea area on the left however.

I then begin painting the distant sand so that as it hits the wet area I get a soft edge. When I paint something like this I usually hold my reference photo in my left hand and as I see changes within it that I like I place them into my painting – I don’t go for absolute realism however – I am shooting for the feel of the scene, that is what is important to me. You can see the beginning of this stage in figure 16.

After splatter stage done I wet with clear water from distance to just above splatter area directly below the sun. I immediate start painting the sand.
Figure 16: After splatter stage done I wet with clear water from distance to just above splatter area directly below the sun. I immediate start painting the sand.

I continue painting the sand area concentrating on a number of points. Firstly I keep the tones lighter (more water) and the colors cooler (more blue) in the distance. I keep my sharpest edges for the foreground. I also try to retain some white of the paper to represent the reflection of the sunset on the wet sand.

Additional splatter was added near the end to give more interest in the foreground and enhance the feeling of all the pebbles on the beach. This has to be done before the shine leaves that area of the watercolor painting or you will end up with hard edges or unwanted cauliflower shapes.

I also kept in mind the general pattern of the sand area to keep it looking interesting. A common mistake beginners make when painting sand and beach scenes is that they make the sand and water interface one straight edge which just does not make for an interesting shape.

During this stage I use my water spray bottle often to keep the shine on the wet area of my painting. Remember the time to lightly spray the surface of you painting is while it still has a wet shine on it – otherwise it is usually too late. By keeping the shine on the surface you can continue to work on it without the danger of creating mud!

As soon as I get the feeling that the sand area is looking good I leave it. Remember “The enemy of good is better!” if it is good don’t try to make it better or you will most likely make it worse.

One thing I have discovered about watercolor paintings is that if they look good while you are painting them they will look even better with a mat around them and a frame will really finish them off. So if while you are painting you think you have a good one then it will usually look even better when you frame it.

I let this stage dry completely.

Painting the sand on a pebbly beach with watercolor
Figure 17: Painting the sand on a pebbly beach with watercolor

The sand and pebble area of our beach watercolor landscape painting is now finished and we can move on to painting the sea and waves.

Continue to: Painting the sea, water’s edge and waves with watercolor. Return to: Previous step