Abstracted Seascape Step-by-Step Painting Demo

Seascape Painting: Abstracted Rather Than Highly Realistic

Seascape Painting Step by Step Demonstration
Seascape Painting.

The intention of this painting was to create a feeling of standing on the beach, looking out over some small waves lapping on the shore, to the wide horizon. That feeling you get when you're sitting on the sand, staring out, half day-dreaming and half watching the sea.

The painting was done using acrylics on a large landscape canvas, size 50x120cm / 20x47 inches. I used a wide (about 10cm), flat brush for the whole painting, except for the white of the foam, which was done with a cloth.

The colors used were: titanium white for the sea foam; transparent red oxide, quinacridone gold, and buff titanium for the sea sand; and cerulean blue, cerulean blue deep, chromium blue, phtalo blue red shade, cobalt turquoise for the sea. (If you're thinking this list reads like I just used every tube of blue paint I have, you wouldn't be far wrong. I think Prussian blue is the only blue I have that I didn't pick up.)

On to the first application of paint...

Seascape Painting: Getting Started

Seascape Painting: Getting Started
Seascape Painting.

Most of the painting was done as a series of glazes. The first round of glazes saw me using cerulean blue deep for the sky, cerulean blue for the sea, and transparent red oxide for the sand.

This was applied to the canvas by squeezing a bit of paint from the tube onto the brush, applying brush to canvas, then dipping the brush into a mug of clean water and thinning the paint on the canvas. I don't try to even out the paint, especially where it's depicting sea, but rather leave some areas darker than others (where the paint is thicker).

This painting technique is likely to have purists shuddering, because if you were glazing 'properly', you'd thin the paint to the required consistency before putting it on the canvas. But there are two reasons I do it this way.

The first is that the variation in color will build up to give the sense of wave movement in the sea. The second is that in places the paint runs down the canvas, creating watery 'tide marks' that add texture to the painting -- in this photo it's particularly visible in the sand. Again, this will build up through the layers and create a sense of water in the painting.

Seascape Painting: Glazing

Seascape Painting Step by Step Demonstration
Seascape Painting.

When glazing, it's crucial to let each layer dry before applying the next. Otherwise the paint of the old and new layers will mix on the canvas. If, like me you tend to be impatient and want to get on with a painting, this is where acrylics has a distinctive advantage over oils because it dries so much faster. If I'm working on a small canvas, I often use a hairdryer to speed up the process, but with a larger painting I distract myself with something else to give it time to dry thoroughly.

Between the last photo and this one, several glazes have been applied, particularly various blues in the sea. (Oh, and please don't write to tell me that the horizon line isn't straight; I know! I seem to have this tendency to slope a line down on the right-hand side. I've tried using a ruler, but as you can see, it's something I need to work on...)

Once again I don't worry about the paint running down the canvas -- in the photo you can see clearly where the sea has run over the sand. As each thin layer (or glaze) is applied, an individual glaze's marks become less obvious, but they all add up to an intriguing final painting. The multiple layers create an effect that you simply can't get with one layer of paint.

Seascape Painting: Creating White Foam

Seascape Painting Step by Step Demonstration
Seascape Painting.

Once the sea and the sand were looking okay, the next step was to add some white foam, where the waves lap against the sand. I took the cloth I use for wiping my brushes (rather than a brush), put a little titanium white on my palette, dabbed the cloth into this, then touched it onto the canvas in short, sharp, tapping movement.

Where there was a lot of wet paint on the cloth, this produced a solid area of white; where there was just a little, it created a softer area. Keep dabbing with the cloth as the paint on it gets less and dries, to soften the effect.

Another option would've been to do this using a dry coarse brush with just a little paint on it. To do it that way you dab the brush into a little bit of thick paint, wipe off most of the paint either on the palette or on a cloth, then splay (spread) out the hairs before putting brush to canvas. Again, dab up and down with the brush onto the canvas, rather than spreading the paint across.

Seascape Painting: Declaring it Finished

Seascape Painting Step by Step Demonstration
Seascape Painting.

Remember that 'rule' about a painting being finished when you think you're only 90 per cent done? Well, that's what I did here. As soon as I found myself fiddling with small bits, I stopped. I resisted the urge to 'just quickly' fix bits.

Instead I declared it finished, for now, then turned it to the wall for a while. When I next looked at it, I liked it the just the way it was. A seascape for staring out towards the horizon.