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Pastel Workshops - How To Paint The Sea

Updated on May 8, 2014

Lifeguards Relaxing at Trebarwith Strand

Lifeguards Relaxing At Trebarwith Strand Pastels on Fisher 400 paper
Lifeguards Relaxing At Trebarwith Strand Pastels on Fisher 400 paper | Source

The pastel painting to the right of Lifeguards Relaxing At Trebarwith Strand took around three weeks to complete. It is painted mainly using Unison soft pastels, with some Rembrandt and Sennelier and a touch of Faber Castell Pitt pencils. Trebarwith Strand is a beautiful place on the North Cornish coast. We spend a lot of time there when we can, walking the Southwest Coast Path, drawing and painting.

The painting is currently unfamed, but will be going out to exhibition within the next few weeks, and if not sold will be listed in my Etsy store thereafter.

When painting a seascape, or the ocean, it's probably best to begin with the sky, or if you have no sky in your painting then start at the top of the painting and work downwards. In this instance, I chose a blue violet Rembrandt pastel stick and swept this along the top opf the work and down the sides a little, then belnded the rest of the sky with a Rembrandt blue-green down to the sea.

I smudged the pastels into the tooth of the paper, but still left some of the texture of the Fisher 400 showing through, as I wanted a 'painterly', dramtic look, rather than a photographic 'piece'.


Next, I put in the fluffy clouds using a much softer, Unison pastel A27 which is a cream coloured pastel, working more pigment into the tops of the coulds to suggest that this edge is lighter, then just using a finger to blend the cream pastel into the blue layer to suggest shadow.

The next part of the painting I tackled was Gull Rock. This is a very dramatic outcrop just off the shoreline, so it needed to appear dramatic in the painting, but without dominating the piece. For that reason I chose to work using lilac-greys and grey-greens with a grey-brown for the very dark shadows and sticking to mid-tones. In this way, Gull Rock will fade into the background somewhat without disappearing.

Paint The Sea

I couldn't wait to get started on painting the sea itself and for this, I dived into my box of Unison Dark Pastels. These gorgeous dark jewels have just the depth of pigment I wanted in this painting, as I wanted the ocean to be the main focus of the work.

The unison dark pastel set has five of each pigment of dark blue, green and red, so I sarted at the horizon with the palest of the dark blues and greens, and worked towards darker pigments as I moved down to the foreground, keeping my direction of line horizontal. finally I added a bright blue highlight to the fore and then worked in a little dark red to act as a complementary colour for all that blue.

To block in the wave, I switched to my set of Rembrandt pastels, as my Unison set doesn't have the clear, bright green that I wanted for the light areas of the wave, also, using Rembrandt pastel makes it easier to layer the foam of the waves over this, as Rembrandt pastels are a little harder textured and therefore easier to paint over.

I kept to the Unison darks for the base of the waves, where there is more body of water and therefore less light shining through. Much of the foam of the waves was painted using blue-grey pastels, as I wanted to reserve white highlights for the central area of the wave foam and the spray. Once I had the bulk of the wave painted as I wanted, I fixed the central area using Spectra-Fix Degas fixative, so that I could add the foam spray and the lifeguards.


Next, I put in the lifeguards, using Sennelier, bright red, with unson Dark red for the shadows, and using Pitt pencils to suggest highlights and movement. Then I began work on the rocks, using the darkest grey in the unison Landscape set for the deepest shadow plus a pale grey-green for the lightest areas and a Rembrandt grey-brown for the mid-tones. The tones mirror those of Gull Rock, but are kept very dark and subdued, to keep the eye focussed on the lifeguards and the sea.


When painting the large areas of rock, I used the pastel in the direction of the various striations of rock to suggest their volcanic form. Finally, I completed the piece by defining some of the rock clefts with a dark grey Pitt pencil and added the same dark red that I had used in the Sea to a few areas of rock, to tie the whole piece together.

The final touches were to Add in the white spray of the main wave and the blue-grey spray of the wave encroaching on the rock in the foreground.

Et voila! C'est finis.

All that was required now is a light spray with my favourite Degas fixative, then the pastel painting was ready for mat cutting, mounting and framing, then it's away to exhibition.

4.8 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of This painting


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    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      There's only one word - glorious

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 4 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks loveofnight. It was a painting from the heart - always the best sort. I'll definitely keep on hubbing - planning to write another 'how to' hub this week (just have to finish the painting first, take the photos etc, oh and write the article, of course).

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I would love to be able to paint this well. You did yourself proud with this one.Congrats and keep hubbing.