Watercolour Seascapes


Dramatize your watercolour seascapes.

A5 watercolour: Dramatic sunset.

Have you ever noticed? That there isn’t many dramatic seascapes been painted in watercolours? By that I mean action seascapes, with tumultuous seas and huge waves pounding onto rocks and cliff faces?

It seems most watercolour artists paint passive seascapes with gentle horizontal waves rippling quietly towards the shore.

Why do you think that is?

Watercolour seascapes aren’t the easiest to paint. They are a different ball-game to painting landscapes. There are things to consider and how to go about it.

First of all you have to be observant:

You will find those artists who have lived down by the seaside paint the best seascapes. They paint with authenticity. Why because they took time out to really observe the sea under all conditions. That is:

  • How the waves roll in: What they look like in each stage, formation of their swell, peck, turn and tumble and scud up the beach.
  • Tonal differences: Where the light and dark tones are and how this affects the distinction and cognizance of shapes and forms within the painting.
  • Edge differences and variations: That is, under what conditions you’ll find blurred soft-edges and where sharper-edges are found along contours.
  • Direction of light and how it plays a big part in the composition: Whether the sun (or moon) is shining from the back or front of the wave? Where the shadows are falling, etc?
  • Weather conditions that affect the mood of the sea, tidal undercurrents, light conditions, change in the overall colours of the scene, etc.
  • Best composition format for seascapes: The use of oblique lines of action, wavy S-lines and choppy w-lines of motion.

Those are the basic observances of research. As we proceed through the blog series, we will discuss more and in-depth on this topic.

How do I know so much about painting exciting seascapes?

Well, I was born in Durban (Natal, South Africa) and lived near the sea and so naturally spent holidays playing and swimming down by the sea. And so I fall in love with the sea.

But as my artistic talent grew, I started to take more notice of how the sea is painted. It has been such an interesting and informative experience over the years.

“Why is that?” Like any talent, skill is learnt through frequent practical experience and in-depth research. The more you paint, the more you learn, that each composition has different format considerations, etc.

Painting trips:

Every time the family went on a picnic or on holiday, I would take time out to do location fieldwork, depending of cause on the circumstances, then I would only take photographs. Now with a tablet you can enlarge areas with your fingertips and see how the wave turns at its peak, etc.

Painting out on location can be a lot of fun. There are moments when the elements of the sea are so powerful and beautiful that its takes your breath away. So exhilarating and inspiring. Making you want to take out your brushes and paint right then and then.

And once you have been out doing location work a few times, you learn what to take with you and how to be prepared for every eventuality. In the case of painting the sea, it isn’t surprising you’ll have people watching you and if you sitting on a rock, you have to be constantly watching out for the next wave, etc. It’s like been on a thrilling adventure.

Putting action in your watercolour seascapes.

A5 watercolour: Receding seawater.

My personal preference:

I love dramatic action-packed seascapes. Those with stormy skies, huge waves, plenty spray and mist, etc. Any type of composition that has emotional impact, such as the one you see here, close-ups of seawater cascading over and receding from rocks, cliff-faces, etc.

Following the blog series: ‘Watercolour Seascapes Secrets

So with each blog I’ll take you on an adventure. What to do in each situation, how to be prepared, what to watch out for, and the theory behind painting the best watercolour seascapes you’ve ever done.

Photo Demos

Photo demos:

Since most artists paint daily and post them on a daily basis, I thought I would rather do something quite different, by showing a series of paintings from photos.

With each photo demo:

  • Not only how I painted the scene or subject matter, but interesting stuff about what happened there, what I did or thought of the place, event, etc.
  • Where possible I’ll state what art materials, techniques and methods were used in the demo.
  • And any peculiar and unforeseen things that happened during the process and how I handled the situation.

I don’t promise to do my photo demos on a daily basis, but as a busy artist I will endeavour to follow-up with new demos as often as possible.

The first photo demo  is”Old willow stump”  and can be found below on this page. But in future all new photo demos will be found under the category blog listing: “photo demos”.

Tourism aspect:

  • Most of the photos taken of South Africa were by me. So I’m able to describe and add fascinating facts of the terrain.  For the tourist who is interested in touring South Africa, here is the opportunity to tour and see interesting places off the beaten track.
  • Sometimes I’m given photos by other people. Some photos may be beyond the borders of South Africa, but none the less just as interesting because of the experiences of the people who went there.

What to expect:

  • Naturally we can’t re-produce precisely what God has perfectly created. Therefore the demos won’t be exactly as what’s seen in the photos. As artists we have the privilege or licence to create illusions of reality.
  • Having different personalities we interpret, translate and transform the subject matter according to our imagination, preferences and choice of style, technique and medium used.
  • The end result could be a simile, mock reproduction, fantasy or outright abstract of reality.The ultimate objective though is the challenge to create something that will charm and stimulate the emotions and senses of humanity.

Demo renditions:

You may notice I sometimes change my original perception of the concept midstream. Why? Because I like to go with the flow of what’s happening in the painting. I watch the mingling interaction of the paint and how its characteristics start to take over and transform the concept. To me paintings evolve, somewhat like what happens when TV actor characters affect, define and enhance the appeal of the soapie series.

By following my art blogs, I hope you will find them enjoyable, fascinating and informative.

THE FIRST PHOTO DEMO:   Vaal River Willow scene:

Something about the place we are going to discuss:

The location is along the Vaal River, just before The Barrage, in Sasolburg, Orange Free state, South Africa. Because boating and water skiing is popular along this part of the river there are many holiday cottages in the vicinity.

I must say for me, been adventurous and observant is part of being an artist. So taking my sun-float (ly-lo) I hand-padded across the river to the reed island in the centre of the river. Contending with the flow of the current is exhilarating and so peaceful once you reach and circle round the reeds, checking out the wildlife, birds and their nests.

I love exploring the countryside with my camera, following footpaths,  rambling through grass, and weeds, climbing over rocks and trailing through streams, etc in my endeavours to search for scenes that I can used for art. This amuses my family. They say, “If Ada has a camera in her hands, she will attempt anything!”

So it isn’t surprising I scrambled along the bank of the Vaal River (upstream from where I had used the sun-float) to take photos.

Photo demos for artists

The Vaal River


What was your first impression on seeing this photo? For me it was the impact and striking contrast of colour: blue and yellow-green.

Watercolour landscape photo demos

Willow along the Vaal river, Sasolburg.

Now the actual demo:

Since the general colour scheme was cold in nature, I knew it needed warm colours to give it more emotional impact. Since it wasn’t an autumn or winter scene I considered giving it a warm atmospheric ambience.

And because I was going to use watercolours, I needed a simpler and different approach to what you would use for oils or pastels. So I reduced some of the detail and foreground. But having reduced some of the foreground I lost most of the impact of the yellow-green.

Watercolour paper:

The paper I used was A5, 190 gsm acid-free paper. Basically satisfactory paper, if it wasn’t for some of the pages in the sealed A4 pad were tightly pressed folds in them. Obviously the manufacturers hadn’t checked their production, and when I returned to the eminent stationery shop I found they still had faulty stock!

Procedure used:

  1. I first laid in an overall light raw sienna imprimatura wash.
  2. When that was dry, a soft pink wash (perm madder lake) was painted over the sky and distant tree area.
  3. When that was dry, I filled in the silhouette background trees with French Ultramarine blue and dropped-in a touch of cerulean blue. Space was left for the main willow tree.
  4. After the distant trees had dried I added a soft wash of blue to the sky,  leaving a pink aura along the trees’ silhouette contour edges.
  5. Working downwards: added the in between trees and then the cool reeds up to the waterline. The waterline was measured in relation to the bottom edge of the paper, so it would have balanced equanimity.
  6. The far distant water lilies were added close to the reeds, with reflections below the lily meniscus waterline.
  7. Then the semi-submerged little tidal islands were put in before the main willow tree. First different shades of brown with different green dropped-in and shadows added according to the drying time of the paint and paper.
  8. Because of the awkward angle of the willow’s trunk, I suggested a more upright angle by adding another possible branch.
  9. Foreground was added after painting the willow trees.
  10. Lastly to complete the picture and give it emotional appeal: pink atmospheric ambience was added to water nearest to the willow trees and as aura around the contours of the willow trees and within the pinholes of the foliage.
Watercolour of the Vaal River during summertime

Blue green rendition of the Vaal River

Another photo demo rendition:

The same scene, same size, as above but now painted on different paper (200gsm, Amedeo mixed media A4 pad). This paper has a different textured surface and is harder to drop-in and spread washes evenly.

I’m very interested to know which of the two watercolours you like best: the first one or the last blue/green one? Why do I ask for your response? Because I love the lushness of green, but it is said that green paintings are not acceptable! What do you think?

The first Photo Demos that are no longer listed: