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?
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