How to Paint a Seashore

Written by joshua dyson
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How to Paint a Seashore
Good photo references for seashore paintings includes the shore, ocean and sky. (Seashore image by Michael Wuelfrath from

Imagine the seashore --- the smell of the salt air, the sound of the crashing waves and the warmth of sun --- and then imagine the ability to capture and preserve the whole experience so that it can be treasured forever. Painting a seashore in oils, acrylics, or watercolours can do just that. You can create a realistic seashore with any of these media, provided you know how to use the unique capablities of each type.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Watercolour paints
  • Photo reference
  • Brushes
  • Watercolour paper
  • Towel
  • Pencil

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  1. 1

    Find a photo reference of a seashore, or visit the beach. If you are working from life, you will need an artboard for your paper to rest on. Hold on with clothespins, clamps or masking tape. The artboard will then rest vertically on an easel. You do not need an artboard if you are painting on canvas, as it will rest comfortably on the easel's ledge by itself.

  2. 2

    Locate the horizon line in the photo where ocean meets the sky. Paint a straight horizontal line across your watercolour paper or canvas to represent this.

  3. 3

    Sketch out the composition if you are using oils or acrylics. With watercolours,

    it is better to build the composition with paint, due to the transparency of the medium.

    Turn your pencil on its side and begin lightly sketching in any forms on the shore. These could be anything from rocks to people. Keep the lines loose by locking your wrist and drawing with broad strokes. Make note of any shadows created by the forms by lightly shading those areas. For a watercolour painting, use washes of colour to block in forms.

  4. 4

    Erase any areas of pencil that are too dark, using the gum eraser to go over the whole surface of the acrylic or oil painting drawing.

  5. 5

    Decide on a light colour to apply as a tone for the background. Good choices for beach scenes are warm colours in the yellow to orange range. The watercolour painting requires no erasures and tone has already been put down, so just continue to build up colours for the shore, ocean, and sky.

  6. 6

    Mix a warm tone in acrylic using warmer hues such as reds and oranges. Add a small amount of water to the mixture to thin until you get a smooth, flowing consistency. Use the same approach with oils, but use turpentine or linseed oil to get the right consistency.

  7. 7

    Create a slightly darker colour than the tone used to create the beach in the acrylic, oil, and watercolour paintings. This colour can still be in the orange to red family but will now include a complementary colour such as blue or green, mixed in small amounts to make it darker.

  8. 8

    Apply this colour on top of the tone in the foreground area. Let it dry and apply another layer. Add in other colours based upon what you see in the reference. You can create textures such as grains of sand with dry brush strokes on top of the tone and build up other textures such as plant life with just about any type of stroke with a fan brush.

  9. 9

    Chose a blue-green colour for the ocean, depending on how it appears in the reference. Try mixing different blues with greens to find something that looks right. Apply this to the ocean area with the brush, using short, choppy strokes to create the effect of water. Apply warmer colours like reds and oranges in small amounts to make shadow areas in the water. Add white highlights to the tops of the waves.

  10. 10

    Choose a blue colour for the sky. Once again, study the reference to see what colour the sky is in that particular scene. The sky is not always just a basic blue, as it is more complex than that in reality. Try mixing light blues and white to create the basic sky colour.

  11. 11

    Apply the colour with heavy, broad strokes. The linseed oil with be very useful here, as it will stretch the oil paint and allow it to be opaque in all areas. With acrylic and watercolour, the balance of water and paint will determine how thick the paint is. Watercolour will have to be built up in several stages because of its transparency. Acrylic can be thickly applied in only a few coats.

  12. 12

    Paint in details with a smaller brush, staying concerned with basic areas of solid colour to start off with. Let the areas dry before going back in and adding more detail.

Tips and warnings

  • Linseed oil is very useful in making oil paint flow better but it tends to wash out colours and makes drying times longer. With either oils or acrylics, you want to apply the tone lightly, with long stokes across the entire surface. If it is thinned correctly, then it will go on as a light wash, no matter how it is applied.
  • With the watercolour's warm tones already applied, manipulate the wetness of the paint to create light and dark areas. Allow the paint to run, but maintain control of it by keeping a towel handy. Soak up any unwanted areas, lifting out areas of paint can reveal the lighter areas of the shore, ocean and sky.

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