Painting plein air at the beach is a remarkable experience. The vast stretches of empty sand, the ever-present sound of breaking waves, and the majestic clouds create a sense of freedom and space. If you've ever painted at the beach, you know that this subject requires a different approach compared to plein air painting in the countryside or city. In those places, there are many more reference points and anchor points for perspectives, and the numerous objects provide more visual material. The same applies to color. At the beach, you often have to work with pastel shades that are close to each other. Observing carefully before starting is perhaps one of the most crucial skills for a plein air painter. The empty space of the beach provides little visual material. To make the painting attractive, you can fill the empty space within your composition with people, or you can explore the nuances of colors in the sky, sea, and sand. I aim to demonstrate the latter in this article. For this demonstration, I am using acrylic on 60x50 cm acrylic paper. The weather is not very warm outside, which is suitable for this medium due to its drying time.
1. I almost always start with a quick sketch using paint or charcoal. This time, I choose charcoal because I'm not entirely sure where to place the horizon: should I emphasize the sky with little beach or vice versa? Ultimately, I decide to feature more of the beach, as I want to showcase the color nuances. The water in the foreground contributes to a beautiful sense of depth, so I deliberately position it on the right side of my composition, guiding the viewer's eye towards the upper right corner.
2. The top of the sky (directly above me) will be painted with cobalt blue, while the horizon will have a cerulean blue color. These colors are applied to the water in the foreground. I work quickly to blend the colors directly into each other. While the paint is still wet, I mix titanium white with a small amount of Naples yellow and apply it to the blue at the horizon, creating a sense of depth.
3. In this step, I focus on the beach. I use yellow ochre and burnt umber as the first layer, mixing them directly on the acrylic paper. I use a cloth to remove some paint at the horizon, exposing the white surface and making the brown colors more transparent.
4. With bold strokes, I paint the row of dunes and the strip of sand on the right side, without concerning myself with details. Since the paint from the previous step has dried, I apply a new, diluted yellow layer with water, which is then gently rubbed away with a cloth. The flat surface of the paper allows the paint to blend beautifully. I use the back of my brush to scratch some lines in the sandy area, giving me a better idea of depth and perspective.
5. I apply titanium white to depict the clouds and the reflections in the water. Naples yellow helps to give a lighter hue to the beach at the horizon. I deliberately avoid painting the surface too densely. I leave some areas open or remove layers with a cloth to make the beach interesting and avoid creating a large, uniform surface. The clouds also receive a transparent Naples yellow layer.
6. I accentuate the shadowed parts of the clouds with Payne's gray. I know it might be too intense at this stage, but after it dries, I will add a lighter layer to create a layered effect and make the clouds a more interesting part of the painting. I use permanent red violet and Prussian blue to highlight the water's edges, preparing for a smooth transition between water and beach in later stages.
7. I moisten the beach and sea again to blend the colors smoothly. Unfortunately, the paper has slightly buckled, but I will address that later. I update the clouds with a light gray.
8. The row of dunes receives more emphasis with Prussian blue and burnt umber. I soften the light reflections of the clouds in the foreground.
9. Using a transparent layer of red violet, I add more color to the bottom of the dunes and the foreground. I accentuate the distant dunes on the horizon with a touch of permanent yellow, a suggestive line that represents sunlit dunes. Personally, I find suggestive elements more intriguing than meticulously painted details.
10. I refine small details: the row of dunes is touched up, and the seawater acquires a greenish tint with the transparent yellow layer, as if the sun is shining on part of the horizon. I use paint splatters to enliven the sandy area. I ensure that the splatters follow the perspective lines and cover the parts of the painting that should not be speckled. I update the sky above the horizon to add more depth.
11. A few walkers are added through small dots, enhancing the perspective in this beach scene. My tip: start with bold strokes, work swiftly, and avoid investing too much time in details - those can be refined in the final steps.
Get outside and get to work with paint and brush. If you need help with that, contact me, I can help you with plein air painting. Are you interested in a workshop? Then email me.