Watercolor Seascape Demonstration - St. Barts

I have been looking forward to painting a harbor of the Caribbean island of St. Barts in the French West Indies. The islands of the Caribbean have beautiful coral formations, quaint houses and clear turquoise water that is breathtaking to behold. So, let's get started:


Drawing the composition: Since this watercolor is 8"x10", I've soaked and stapled the paper to a masonite board to stretch it. This will mean less buckling when lots of wet washes are used for the sky and water areas.

When the paper is dry, I draw the composition. You can see those lovely rock outcrops in the foreground and the harbor in the distance.

Palette: My current palette for watercolors is a limited one of one red, one yellow and one blue, however the turquoise waters in this piece call for another blue. So I've added my favorite turquoise - cobalt turquoise - to my palette.

Painting the sky and distant water: Wetting the paper with clear water, I then add washes of blue to the sky leaving white areas for clouds. I wash pale blue over the distant background hills leaving the boats white and then blue and turquoise in the water dropping in a bit of yellow where the water is shallow. This will give the impression of very clear water with the bottom colors showing through.

Foreground water: Next I wet the area in the foreground and add washes of blue, turquoise plus more yellow. I love this wet-into-wet stage of a watercolor when the colors run together and I'll try to leave some of those areas showing in the final piece.

Painting the far shore: This part of the painting takes the most concentration. There are red-roofed houses on the hillside and sailboats at anchor in the harbor. Rather than use a masking fluid, I prefer to paint around the boats and houses.

Any white or light areas must be left when painting with watercolor as the medium is transparent. If you tried to paint a light color over a darker one, it wouldn't show very well, if it shows at all.

The harbor, houses and hills are done: I've used cooler colors in that area since it is in the distance. Also, I've kept the detail to a minimum, even though there was a lot of intricate work to be done getting those houses and boats in!

You can see that I've also added some browns as underwater coral to the foreground water near the outcrops. I did this before while those washes were still wet.

Wave Details: The foreground needs some detail and so I paint little wavelets into the water area there in different shades of blue and turquoise. All that is left now are the coral rock formations.

Coral outcrops: One of my favorite things to paint are rocks. Not sure why, but perhaps it was all those illustrations I did for my state's Department of Environmental Protection geology department. These outcrops are painted similarly to rocks.

Coral outcrops have many cracks. You can see a high water line where they are darker near the bottom.

St. Barts Harbor watercolorThe finished painting: It's a bright sunny day and the water is gorgeous, isn't it? Now you can see how the yellow washed into the blue gives the impression of the coral below the surface. Wouldn't you love to take a sail in one of those boats?

Thanks for stopping by my studio. I hope you enjoyed this demonstration and that you'll return for the next one. See more painting demonstrations


Kessie said...

I just love your demonstrations!

The rocks and the water particularly intrigue me, because water continues to be my bane. And for some reason I can't paint rocks without reference.

I like how you painted in the warm colors to show the shallower water and the submerged rocks.

My biggest problem has always been painting water that's not blue. Like in a river, where it's brown or green. I have to leave in large amounts of reflections to show that it's not just ground. Do you have that problem? I'd love to see how you tackle it. :-)

Janet Zeh said...

Water is not an easy thing to paint. The challenge is trying to show something that is clear so you can sometimes see the bottom along with whatever might be floating on top, along with wave shadows and whitecaps/foam along with reflections which will normally be present.

Water is not blue, brown or green of course, it's fairly clear -unless very polluted :). Some water, such pondwater, has a muddy color to it and that is factored in as well.

So, you see, it's complicated - no wonder you are having difficulties!

Blue water is nothing but sky reflections. If the sky is blue, the water will be blue. If gray, the water will be gray. If there are trees and rocks obscuring the sky as in a river, the reflections will be of the trees and rocks.

So, take a close look at water bodies and see where the reflections are coming from. That will help! :)

Sharon Whitley said...

Thank you for posting these demos - I love seeing how other artists go about their paintings, thank you for sharing, Sharon