Today I want to share one of my recent obsessions: painting wet sand and beach scenes! There’s something fascinating about it and keeps me really inspired to pick up my brush.
I have a full tutorial up on YouTube that shows you the process step-by-step, but I’ll discuss it here as well.
How to paint wet sand reflections (beach scenes) with watercolor
Depending on whether you want a bright sunny or a misty stormy day, you’ll first select your color palette. I use color to help guide the mood of the painting. So for my misty scene I chose the following colors:
- Neutral Tint
- Anthraquinone Blue
- Ultramarine Blue
- Phthalo Green
- Potter’s Pink
- Yellow Ochre
- English Venetian Red
I’m using Arches cold pressed paper with a variety of round brush sizes.
Tip: Work in zones!
I worked from back to front (pretty much top to bottom) in this scene. I approached each “zone” separately. Find your zones! In this scene it’s pretty straight forward: sky, rocks, water, beach. This will help because you allow different areas to dry before moving on and your zones don’t bleed into each other.
Step 1: Get the sky area wet, then turn the paper sideways, and tilt up to a 45 degree angle or more. Drop pigment into the wet sky and let it flow down. Soak up any excess water at the bottom with a paper towel.
Step 2: Wait for the sky to dry a little, then paint in the distant hills. We don’t want them to bleed into the sky, so test a small area first to ensure that doesn’t happen! However, by doing this when the sky is just slightly wet, it gives the hills a softer edge and will help them appear further away.
Step 3: Lay in the first layer of rock colors. Keep it more subtle at first – we’ll come back later with another glaze to add more depth.
Step 4: With a slightly muted blue in the distance (I mixed anthraquinone with neutral tint), paint the horizon of the ocean, and slowly work your way down. If you want to show a wave breaking (the white), carefully paint around those areas letting the paper show through. Add a bit more turquoise as you get closer to the rocks and shore. Typically, we can see through waves more easily, and they appear more colorful.
Step 5: As you get closer to the shore, begin diluting your pigment with water and start shifting to your sandy colors. The water near the shore is reflective (lighter) and some areas and clear in others (so we can see what’s under it). I love mixing potter’s pink with yellow ochre or english venetian red for my sand, as potter’s pink is very granulating and looks like actual sand on the page!
Step 6: Once your water is dry, start adding a second glaze to the rocks for the shadows. I usually use a darker version of the original rock color, with a hint of blue added.
Step 7: Continue adding shadows (the second glaze) until your rocks have enough definition. I allowed my foreground rocks to be lighter, as though they are reflecting more light.
Step 8: Add the reflection of the rocks in the wet sand with a dry brush technique. I used the same colors as the rocks themselves, and touched a bit of neutral tint to reflect the shadows on the sand. After that, add any other details like cracks in the rocks, seaweed on the shore, or birds!
If you’d like to watch how I did this in real-time, you can watch the video here: