Watercolours to Suit Your Mood

Quality of your watercolours:

How your seascapes look also depends on the quality of the pigments used and how translucent the colours are.

Why, because people expect seawater to look wet, clear and translucently deep. Give them the feeling that they want to jump in and do some swimming or go sailing.

I’m quite sure no one wants their seascape paintings to look dense, heavy and lifeless. Anyway, opaque pigments don’t flow easily.

You want your paints to `flow easily with the tide’. The sea is moody and full of action. So you must feel the mood of the sea, the pull, flow and ebb of the tide, the pounding of the waves, etc as you paint, if you want your painting to look authentic.

What's your impression?

A5 watercolour: Sunrise on a beautiful morning.

First we’ll look at what other traditional artists used:

(And lastly you can see what I use)

E John Robinson’s palette:

Your palette

E John Robinson’s palette

* This is his basic palette.

Opera is somewhat like Rembrandt’s Quinacridone Rose (shocking pink hue).

Mauve is a warm violet.

  • His dominant colour in his compositions is blue.
  • His sub-dominant colour is green.
  • His complementary or accent (minor) colour is orange (burnt sienna for rocks and sand).

  • ·         Thalo and phthalo words are derived from the word: phthalocynaine.
  • ·         Winsor Newton makes thalo pigments, eg: Winsor blue & Winsor green.
  • ·         Cotman’s call it intense `Phthalo’ blue or green.
  • ·         Thalo pigments are intense strong stainers and should be used with care.
  • ·         Because thalo green is such a strong intense colour: mix raw sienna, burnt sienna, Burnt umber or violet with it, to give it a more natural appearance.

Leslie Worth’s palette:

Your palette

Leslie Worth’s palette

  • The paper Leslie uses: Arches NOT 180gsm/90 LB
  • He wets the paper before applying washes
  • Lays in a soft blurred sky, ocean and beach as one stage (first wash) to mirror colours.
  • He strengthened the values of land (cliffs), horizon and waves. He never over did it or over fussed, his washes were simple.
  • His compositions were generally uncluttered horizontal planes, without huge pounding dramatic waves
  • He made sparkle effects by carefully scraping the paper when the painting was complete and very dry.

 Leslie Worth’s seascape skies:

Yellow pigments were generally included with the first wash, to create a sunny radiance:

  • Raw sienna, indigo, Prussian blue and sepia
  • Replaced raw sienna with orange for warmer beach scenes
  • Raw sienna, Light red, brown madder, sepia, Prussian blue, indigo and violet
  • Yellow ochre, sepia, Monestial blue.

General palette traditional taught in art collages:

Your palette

General palette traditional taught in art collages


  • Rocks: Indian red, cerulean blue, yellow ochre, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, French ultramarine.
  • Rock crevices: Thalo blue, red, green and yellow, Alizarin Crimson.
  • Water: Rose madder, Aureolin yellow, cobalt blue, viridian, and burnt sienna.
  • Reflections: Thalo blue and green, alizarin crimson.

Note: All three of these traditional palettes contained opaque cadmium pigments! Very interesting.

But it’s up to you to experimenting for yourself:

After painting a few seascapes, you’ll soon begin to know which pigments you can handle easily and which you prefer. When working on location doing fieldwork, don’t use a big clumsy paint box. Reduce the amount of pigments and put them in a small tin with a lid.

Now let’s see what my own palette consists of:

Your choiise of pigmets

My basic watercolour palette for seascapes.

® Means manufactured by Rembrandt.

  • I use Rembrandt gamboge yellow and Perm madder lake to make a fresh clean orange. But where the yellow of the sunset meets the blue of the sky, I use raw sienna, to prevent unwanted green tinges.
  • The hue of Gamboge yellows differs with each manufacturer. Rembrandt gamboge is more translucent than the other manufacturers’ gamboge yellows.
  • Raw sienna is great for sky undercoats, sunlight on rocks, and sea sand.
  • I use Indigo as a blue-grey. I mix sap green with a little indigo and Payne’s grey. It makes a lovely translucent green in thin waves and shallow water.
  • I sometimes dropped-in Light Red or Indian Red into French ultramarine, to make beautiful atmospheric sky effects.


  • Personally I don’t use cadmium pigments (eg: red, yellow or orange) because they create `dusty’ opaque washes of colour. Why, because I want to give the impression seawater translucent. So I use more transparent pigments.
  • Also gouache and cheap kiddies paint are too opaque. They give your seascapes a dense chalky appearance.
  • The type of watercolour paper you buy is also important. It makes all the difference in the texture of your washes and the general appearance of your seascapes. If you are not happy with the results you are getting, experiment with different types of paper until you get what you want. Sometimes it takes time to get used to a type of paper and how to handle its quirks.

Your preference:

  • Would like to know what pigment colours you use in your watercolour seascapes?
  • If your don’t paint yourself,which colours do you think made the best seascapes?

Seascape Location Equipment

Gaining experience on location:

One can learn a lot about how to paint seascapes from art books and the internet, but to become a truly good seascape artist you need to do location fieldwork. That is, go down to the sea and learn directly from Nature and all its idiosyncrasies.

  • How the waves and foam form.
  • How the waves ride and break.
  • What happens when a wave hits rocks or clashes with another wave in under-current conditions?
  • What are the true colours of the sea in all-weather conditions?
  • What colours of the sand, wet and dry, etc?
Location observation

A5 watercolour: Close up of dashing waves.

When doing location fieldwork:

Don’t take expensive equipment with you and limit your paraphernalia. You don’t want to carry heavy stuff around while looking for a good scene to paint. It also reduces any ‘toing and froing’ of equipment from the car to the spot you have chosen.

You don’t need the fuss of where you are going to arrange and balance all the stuff around you on rocks or rutted sand.

Because each situation is different, only take out those things you will need from your (light-weight) haversack when you set yourself up at the chosen spot. So that you have less to gather up, should an unexpected wave threaten!

 Suggested equipment:

  • An A4 board to clip your paper to: Panelite or fiberglass boards are very light in weight.
  • A plastic water-bottle with fitting cup lid, so you have fresh rinse water and a water-jar all in one.
  • Also a small handy fine-spray bottle to wet your paper. You don’t want too much water, water can be very heavy!
  • A wet dish-clothe (they manufacture thin light-weight ones these days). Keep it in a small plastic bag to keep it damp and clean when not in use. This clothe is for wiping your hands on or flushing sand out of your paint box if necessary. But its main use is to keep your paper damp (placed under your paper) while you are painting. The reason is that paper dries quickly outdoors, especially in this case it’s generally breezy down by the seashore.
  • I keep a small stock of watercolour paper in an A4 plastic sleeve-pocket, like the ones you put in folder-files. The plastic protects the paper from getting wet.
  • Half toilet roll or paper towel, for blotting excess paint, etc.
  • For technique purposes, a small facial cosmetic sponge to create fine spray that the wind blows off the tops of waves.
  • A fold-out hold-all `pencil box’: I made mine from clothe, with a long zip. It has inner pockets to put stuff in. Some artists include elastic bands to hold their brushes firmly in.
  • A small old towel, (across your lap) to swipe your brush across when your brush is too wet. You can also arrange your paint box and brushes on it if you have to set up yourself on loose sand, to prevent sand getting into your paints. In that case, you’ll resort to flicking your brush to eradicate excess liquid.

Other considerations:

Always have the right clothing to protect yourself against all weathers, so you can work in comfort. Things like:

  • Lip-ice, scarf and a wind-breaker jacket.
  • If you take a hat, sew in an elastic band to make sure it doesn’t blow away in the wind.
  • Brown sunglasses protect your eyes from the glare and flying sand. The white of the watercolour paper creates a glare that distorts the true hue of the colours in your paint box, and after a while you find yourself selecting just any blue or green, until your painting has an unrealistic appearance.
  • I take a camera with me so as to catch special effects. If you take a camera, conceal it in your clothing. This reduces theft and also prevents the lenses getting wet and misting up with the salty atmosphere. I also carry a small plastic bottle of liquid lens cleaner and soft lens clothe in my camera sling bag.
  • Where possible wear flexible rubber shoes to balance on shape rocks, as you seek a place to paint.
  • If you are female, wear shorts or a swimsuit. You don’t want your dress flying up with a sudden gust of wind! Nor do you want an unexpected wave to make your slacks wet.
  • A plastic bag to put your litter in. Fold it up into a compact size when not in use.

What to keep in your car:

  • Also, you may want higher elevation (a better perspective angle) of the scene. Keep a fold-up camping chair in the car. Get one with a place to hold (a glass) for your water-jar and if possible a side flap that’ll hold your paint box, etc for easy access. Its irritating bending down from you chair to get at your water and paints, etc.
  • Keep a wind-breaker shield in your car in case your need it. This type of wind-breaker is those that you peg in the sand, placed on the windward side of where you are sitting.
  • Keep a file of your paintings in your car. You never know when someone seeing you working on location will want to buy one or two of your paintings.
  • Keep a sketch pad and note-book in the car. Some days you may not be able to paint, but would like to sketch the sea and make research notes instead.
  • It’s not fun painting on an empty tummy. Take food that doesn’t litter and is handy to grab and eat while painting, example apples or plain biscuits.
Location observation

A5 watercolour: Clashing undercurrents.

Passing shot:

It sounds exciting doesn’t it?! Yep, painting on location is like going on an adventure, exploring, researching and doing your thing.

What makes great seascape paintings?


Have you ever wondered what makes a great seascape painting? Here are seven basic composition tips:

What happens to pounding surf.

A5 watercolour: Pounding surf.

1: Reduce subject matter:

Always consider the elements seascape before beginning to paint. The suggestions I give here can be varied according to the type of scene.

  • A small painting about 2-3 basic things, eg: wave, foam and rocks.
  • Big paintings about 3-4 elements or objects, eg: Cliff, clear wave, stormy sky, boat or birds.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What is most impressive to you in the scene?
  • What should you leave out?

2: Dominating factors:

Don’t use similar shapes. Something must dominate the scene to give it impact and purpose.

  • One dominant shape, examples: A big wave, a huge cliff, or rock.
  • One open space, eg: sky area or less-descriptive area.

3: Differential tone values:

  • Where possible have three basic tonal areas, one light, one dark and one medium toned. Subtly interlace their format to give them natural occurrence.
  • Alternate chiaroscuro, that is, contrast and change of tone levels from one plane to another, so that form is distinguished perspectively.

4: Variation of balance and weight:

  • If there is a cliff on one side of the painting and you want some rocks on the other side of the composition, the rocks on the other side should be smaller than the cliff, so that the cliff-face dominates the scene.
  • Two big clear waves with a diminishing contour in the middle split one’s attention. One dominant wave gives the painting impact.

5: Action and motion:

  • Action: Oblique angles, contours and lines, eg: // ZZ SS.
  • Motion: Irregular arabesque lines and curves.
  • Rhythm: Big and small undulation contours.

6: Variation of detail and texture:

  • Lacy foam verses clear translucent water.
  • Soft blurred edges verses sharp hard edges, eg: sharp rocks verses blurred spray.
  • Big verses small brushstrokes: Where possible the ration of big brushstrokes (washes) should outweigh smaller strokes.

7: Variation of colours:

  • Water looks translucent when there is a combination of analogous colours, example: Blue seawater: warm and cool blues. Greenish seawater: Warm and cool greens.
  • Rocks: variation of brown tones, earth yellows and blue shadows.
  • Warm and cool colours in the sky give it atmospheric depth.
What a simple concept.

A5 watercolour: Even serene seascapes can look exciting.

Passing shot:

`All said and done’, what do you think makes a great seascape painting? Please leave a comment. I would like to hear what your opinion is.

Capturing The Action

Putting action into your brushstrokes:

Like any other landscape painting, the composition of seascapes are first considered and planned beforehand. But once you have started painting you must go with the flow of what’s happening as you slash on paint. Watercolour seascapes aren’t painted with tiny fussy brushstrokes. You must feel the power of the seawater with each brush stroke.

The sea in action.

A5 watercolour: The sea in action.

Simple synopsis?

Some people like to start with a light pencil sketch of the basic elements of the composition.

But I prefer to spray both sides of my paper. Why, because seawater is always in motion, and you need depict the blurring of spray and fine mist it creates.

So I start with a blurred blocking-in of light colour and then build up the painting as the paper dries, adding darker and darker colours (where necessary) until I get the right tone contrasts.

 Basic capturing of the scene:

  • Because watercolour paint is wet, work from the top of your page (paper) downwards.
  • Paint only the coloured areas at first. Leave the paper white, where there is going to be `white’ foam and spray, etc.
  • Keep edges soft and blurry, except where you want crisp white areas or highlighted spots.
  • Tip: Water looks wet and translucent when there is a variation of hues. So drop-in and add other colours wherever needed as you work.

Capturing the action:

Because the sea is always in motion there should be action lines in your painting. So, now look again at the scene before you. Look for possible oblique lines and contours and where you’ll possibly find them:

  • Waves are like mountains with valleys in between.
  • So check out the flowing contour edges of huge waves.
  • Notice how the troughs in between the waves have curved basins.
  • Breaking waves have curved translucent peaks.
  • The lacy froth floating in the troughs and up the water of the breaking wave, emphasizes the curve and motion of the waves.
  • Choppy water has small linked W-Hogarthian lines.
  • The scud rushing up the beach has `S’ action lines along the shore.
  • Towering cliff-faces generally have oblique contoured profiles.
  • Craggy jagged rocks have variable `Z’ action lines.
  • Watering running in rivulets, down the beach and into the surf, have `S and Z’ curves.
  • Sometimes you get sweeping cloud formation that you can use as curved action lines in the sky area as well.

Check out tonal format of your composition:

Like any painting your tonal format is important. If your painting is all on one tone level, no one will be able to distinguish what is happening in your painting. So whatever you do, somewhere in your seascape there must be a dark area that gives strength to your painting.

In fact there should be three basic tone areas to make it easier for people to peruse your painting. For example:

  1. One dark area,
  2. One medium toned area,
  3. And one light toned area.

But don’t make them obvious, there will naturally be an interlacing of the areas, depending on the situation and lighting conditions.

  • Naturally rocks are dark,
  • And `white’ foam is light coloured.
  • Skies are generally light in intensity, but you can have dark stormy skies and dark cliffs in the upper area of your composition.
  • Shadows bring in the medium tones.

But there must be contrast at the main point of interest:

This dramatizes the whole scene.

  • Tonal contrast.
  • Colour contrast.
  • Contrast of soft and hard edges.

Working out on Location:

The wind can be very frustrating:

  • Sometimes there is a sudden gust of wind, so keep your paper clipped to your board.
  • Working out-doors your paper and watercolours dry quickly. Keep a wet cloth under your paper and a fine spray bottle ready and handy for whenever it’s needed.
  • If there is high winds blowing don’t go painting that day. Fine sand can be blown all over your precious painting!
  • Sometimes it isn’t the wind that puts sand on your paper. It’s the people passing by or children playing ball that kick sand on your painting or paint box.

One time, can you believe it?

I clumsily tipped my own paint box into the sand! Ooh, it was so embarrassing. A chap, who had come and sat down next to me to watch me paint, carefully got up and recovered my paint box. I took the bottle of water I had for painting and quickly flushed the sand off my pigments before the sand became in-bedded. Needless to say I lost quite a bit of paint in the process that day.

So my advice to you, is to watch where you put down your art materials, you don’t want a balancing trick and disaster happening right in the middle of a fantastic objet d’art.

 People coming to watch you paint:

If you don’t like people watching you paint, don’t worry, not everyone has artistic talent and maybe this could be `a-quick-sale’ when the painting is finished!

If you are still uncomfortable about people seeing what you are doing, you can sit close-up against a rock, a wind-breaker fence or perhaps there’s a concrete support wall available to shelter from prying eyes.

Putting action in waves.

A5 watercolour: Active wave.


At first the results maybe disappointing, but with much observance and persist experience: action pays dividends. If you love the sea and its entire fascinating idiosyncrasy, you will definitely win in the end.

Remember this is only the beginning of the watercolour seascape blog series. With each new blog you will learn more and more. That’s what’s so wonderful about painting; each painting is an exciting adventure!

Check out the introduction page on this website: Watercolour seascapes

THE PLACE to be in the Karoo

THE PLACE to be in the Karoo for artists:

This Karoo resort caters for artists besides the usual holiday and weekend accommodation that’s available. There’s art workshops and spacious studio space for artists to use, with beautiful views of the Touw river and surrounding koppies (hills).

This is the place.

A4 pastel painting: This is the cottage where Susan and Peter Walden stayed in during December 2014.

Here is a report from folks that have been there:

Recently Susan and Peter Walden went there. They love nature and wildlife. Even though they aren’t artists, they sent me this lovely report on the place:

“We spent five nights at this wonderful getaway that has to be the most peaceful and serene place that we have ever visited.

The farm is full of contrasts, from the hardy Karoo vegetation, to the lush greenery that surrounds the dam and the river.

Our time was spent exploring the farm during the day where we managed to spot tortoises, two large owls and a whole variety of inland water birds and other species common to the Karoo.

The studio flat where we stayed is sufficient for two, very clean and tastefully decorated. The breakfasts we ordered were five-star quality and is definitely recommended. Nights were spent around the braai (place outside fire for frying meat, fish, etc) and gazing at the stars from the viewpoint of the hammock.

Another must if you are visiting is to purchase some farm fresh eggs and a selection of organic herbs and leaves for your salad, it will leave your taste buds tingling.

We cannot end this review without including the most important ingredient to our holiday experience, and that would be the warmth and friendliness of our hosts Kevin and Lizelle.”

A5 watercolour: Touw river during December.

A5 watercolour: Touw river during December.

Artistic application:

  • First I did an A5 watercolour of the accommodation Susan and Peter stayed in. Because I wanted to depict the leafiness of the Karoo shrubs, the watercolour turned out looking too fussy and busy. So then, I thought chalk pastels would do it more justice. You can see the pastel, at the top of the page. What do you think?
  • And the A5 watercolour immediately above!  Well that was taken from a photo Susan gave me of the Touw River. I left the white of the paper to give the water a sparkling effect. It also shows how strongly the water is flowing past the rocks.

Check out the page introducing these requests: ‘Location Paintings

Contact information:

To learn more about The Place, go to their website: http://www.the-place.co.za/

And if you wish to make bookings enquiries, contact: 028 551 2068   or  071 080 7333 or email:  lizelle@the-place.co.za

The Place in the Karoo, South Africa.

Here is a Google map of the area in which the THE PLACE nestles  in the Karoo, South Africa.