How to Paint a Beach in Watercolor
In this guide for beginners I’m going to show you how to paint a beautiful beach scene in watercolours. I also have the full 90 minute real-time tutorial for this painting here.
To kick things off, I use a kneaded eraser to lighten my sketch outline. Next up is mixing the color for the sea; I use a turquoise blue and a really nice bright green. For the sky I wanted more of a bluey purple tone, so that the sky and the sea stand out from each other. This really helps to make the painting pop. Before painting these two areas I would recommend going in and wetting them both with some water, which will prevent any harsh edges appearing where the sea and the sky meet.
So, take that premixed color and paint over the sea nice and evenly. Then go in with your second blue and paint the sky, but make sure to leave some areas white, as these will be your ready-made fluffy clouds. By just doing a tapping motion with the brush this allows the color to bleed out into the pre-wet paper, which I think creates a really nice soft look in those white areas.
I like to add some Payne’s grey in with the blue to create shadows and to darken up the horizon. This allows some great contrast to develop and a great variety of colors as well. You can also add some of the blue you used for the sky to darken the sea and create even more shadows.
To lift up any highlights you may want, use a clean, damp brush and smooth out the line of the sea or create some more of those lovely, fluffy clouds. Make sure the painting is still wet for this to work!
Moving on to the sand, I only used two colors, yellow ochre and burnt umber; however, you can just as easily use yellow and brown mixed with some water. Spread this wash wherever you can see sand in the reference photo. Start off lightly and then go in with more brown. I like to use my water brush pen so there’s lots of shadows and bumps, just like in my reference photo. Keep building this up until you’re happy with how your sand looks and you’ve got some really vibrant contrasts. Do this when the wash is still wet to prevent harsh edges.
Next up are any grassy areas. I simply use some sap green, or some green mixed with brown and water so it’s not so vibrant. Spread this over any grassy areas in your reference photo. Using my brush pen helps bring the grass to life with length, curve and direction. Adding a bit of brown after helps to show tiny, darker details and shadows.
A really important step that many people forget is the building up of details, by gradually using darker and darker paints. I like to work in multiple layers, as this helps to prevent your painting being too dark and having no contrast. Start off light and gradually add in darker details, but don’t add these dark washes everywhere! It is really nice to see those lighter washes shining through.
I actually use a sponge to create foliage for a couple of trees in the reference photo. Simply putting some paint on the sponge and then tapping it wherever I want the foliage to be makes a tree – it’s so quick, easy and realistic! Extra tip: the more paint you put on your sponge the bigger the splotches of foliage will be.
Extra details like overlapping bits of grass onto the sea will increase the realism of your piece. Furthermore, using that clean, damp brush again can create some new highlights in the sand and grass. This is great if you’ve gone slightly overboard and made everything too dark. Alternatively, you can use white gouache to do this, which is a favorite of mine to get those clouds looking fluffy enough!
The final thing to do is make any last tweaks and make sure you are happy with the shadows and highlights.
Want more in depth and expert help? Try my online watercolor courses to level up your painting skills!
Explore the video below to see these techniques in action!