boulders beach watercolour project

When I visited Keith Hornblower’s site last night he had a posting about a watercolour he had done for a commission which was 38 x 38 inches.  He spoke about how he stretched the paper and gave some useful tips.  I had just bought a sheet off a role which is 38 x 42 inches and was battling to flatten it out and eventually I joined two pieces of marine ply I found in my studio and wet the sheet and stretched it.  I pasted it down with brown packing tape (the water glue one) and stapled it down with a staples about an inch or two apart.  It all worked OK  and was ready this morning.  I am going to get a big sheet of marine ply for this for the next one – the join is not a good idea.   As Keith agreed, stretching paper is not for me.  I find it daunting enough sitting before a new sheet of paper with a loaded brush.  Putting all the stretching effort just makes it even more precious.

I drew up my design and prepared for the first wash – here is the sheet waiting  with a rare peek into my studio:

I don’t like using masking fluid but masked the figure on the rock out to make the rest easier.  I also set up bowls for different colours as I reckoned this would use a LOT of colour.  See my squirrel hair mop lying at the ready…

Here is the first wash which I did with the mop:

Mooi ne?  I always have the sense that paintings go downhill from here – but this is not necessarily true is it.  I would like the sea to have been darker.  But I will do the rocks and see what happens next.

Now I have to go out to do looking after stuff – my whole family is down with flu – there have been cases of swine flu in the kids’ schools so we are monitoring – I am not sure why I have been spared this but it is good.

I will put the next steps up as I do them –

Here is the next step.  I have tried to do the rocks in a single wash – but I will need to do more work on them.  Working this big uses a scary amount of colour – eeek.  I was going to do another glaze on the sea but decided not to.  I will do another one after this.  I have bought a piece of external ply as well as some 22×44 mm pine strips to brace it, some posi-screws, some glue and some varnish.  I will do a DIY thingy and stretch another sheet.  My family love it when I DIY.  They call me ‘Die Nuutsman’ after a TV show where this guy did all these jobs around the house with complete skill and all the right tools – like a dream (A ‘nuutsman’ is a handyman I think).  I got the name when I was hammering concrete nails into cornicing.  How do they do that?  They kept breaking or shooting off to the side.  I got a nail almost right and put all my force into a blow (with the necessary expletives) and the hammer carved a massive gouge in the ceiling.  I was so frustrated.  Then I heard laughing and saw my whole family behind me, enjoying the show.  Anyway – that can be another posting.


I have post-last-wash blues and am not sure if this is going anywhere – but I will snuz now and look tomorrow.

OK here is the final bar perhaps some last touch-ups.


I have loaded a bigger format – though hopefully not full size which is 37 x 44 inches.

I have also thought of a number of changes I would like to make in the next one.  I suppose this is why people do value sketches:

  • I will make the sea colours more bold.  The sea is OK in this one but I would like more saturated blues.  The bay in the foreground works well as a flat wash.  The water is very shallow which accounts for the yellow colour.
  • Also the white caps give a sense of perspective.  Like clouds, they are closer together nearer the horizon.
  • And I want to put in the horizon.  It is just above the rock in the distance, that I think is called ‘Roman Rock” though that might be the lighthouse on a rock behind the big boulder in the painting.  I thought the horizon would be distracting but I think it will make more sense.
  • I also want to make the distant rock bigger and bring it lower in the frame.
  • The small rocks in the left foreground are too small and I want to increase their size and get them to contribute more to the composition

I am also thinking of cropping the work – what do you think of this:


or this


But before I can do the next one I need to transform my workspace from studio to carpenter shop.

I have been looking at this watercolour in my studio for a couple of days and it has been crying out for some more work.  And today I had a short time to do what was needed.  So this is how it looks now.


I have almost completed my new stretching board – it is lying under a pile of rocks for a final gluing.  I hope to be able to give it a coat of varnish tomorrow and then I want to go through to Cathy in Observatory (where they have a roll of Arches) and get another big sheet for another shot at this.  I will take some photos of my board to show on this site as, for me anyway, it is a massive achievement and a work of craft if not art.


16 thoughts on “boulders beach watercolour project

  1. Wow ! I did not know your paintings were this big! Is this recent, or have you always been painting that size ??? (may be when we post we should put the size in the description??)
    The colours are fantastic ! I can’t wait to see the rest. Thanks for letting us in your space; it is fun to see how you work, and where it is you create.
    I sure hope your family is ok; I’ll be sending healing vibes your way !

    • Hi Isabelle
      No I usually work much smaller but I did this painting ages ago on a standard sheet of Arches and have always felt I would like to put in more of the scene – so. Long long ago I did some big paintings on Fabriano but I hope I have improved since then.

      I think you are right, we should put in the size and the type of paper and stuff.

      I almost did another wash but could not gather the courage – I have to darken the sea some more – which I would prefer not to do – but anyway. heh heh I had to crop out some of the really untidy parts in my studio.

      Ai my little family is all very sick – I have to do supper now – we had chicken soup last night and tonight we are going to experience the healing properties of pizza – (o:

  2. Oh Swatch,

    I love this love this love this! I want to dive into that sea! Is that the beginning stages of the same picture in your header? Wow.

    I’m so sorry your family is sick. I send you much light and wishes for speedy recoveries all ’round!

    Be Well…

    • Hi

      You seem to be able to do watercolours that look fresh & immediate without them looking all wishy washy & lacking structure! I say this because there seem to be a lot of watercolours around that fall into the 2nd category & I often wonder why there is this particular fashion.

      Geogria O’keefe is more well known for her oil paintiongs but have you looked at her watercolours?

      Good luck with your work & thanks for commenting on my blog.


      • Hi Sonya – Ah yes I have seen some of Georgia O’keefe’s work but that would be a worthwhile search. I have also enjoyed looking for Andrew Wyeth’s work. It is great to see you here – I loved your work and plan to come back to see more. Thanks for the good feedback. Stephen

    • Thanks Forrester – it has been a strange day – my little boy has been delirious but seems to be rallying – thank you for your wishes and kind remarks on my paintings

    • It is coming on hey? Wait till you see my new board for stretching. I did a season with a local artist Ryno Swart who insisted that we stretch our paper. I ignored this until he told me that if I came the next time with unstretched paper he would not let me paint. A bit heavy handed but I did it. I produced some really average work but it was a good learning experience being in a class never the less.

  3. SQ, love taking a peek into your studio. The water looks divine and how did you do the rocks like that with only one wash?

    Hope the family is feeling better. Pizza has wonderful healing properties!

    • Hi C – we should all do a painting of where we work maybe – that would be a fun group project. Thanks – the water works hey? I am not sure if the perspective is so good but I will leave it for now.
      I started at the top of the rocks by wiping the brush on its side across the dry paper to get the texture, then I wet it in places to soften the edges – which may not have been the best thing. I worked the darker areas with a heavy wash, keeping it wet, something like I mentioned on your site. What happens with this is the paint separates and creates a beautiful granular texture that gets lost if I do the same thing with lots of glazes. I am feeling the need to build up the darks but am resisting this as much as possible.
      The family are still out of it but the temperatures are down – thanks hey. They didn’t eat all their pizza even – that is how bad they are. I have to agree with you – it is VERY healthy stuff.

  4. Hey! Did you add more to this than was here on the original post? I was in a rush the other day and might have missed the final picture.

    I LOVE IT. I am a total ocean person and I could look at your painting for hours and hours the way I look at the ocean. It’s so full and rich. For whatever it’s worth, I like it uncropped. I love the HUGENESS of nature and the sea. I like feeling small at the beach, and although the intimacy of your cropped versions is lovely….I personally prefer the other.

    Hope the delirium passed. Arg. It’s so rough when they get sick like that! Mine’s grown now, but I remember those days.

    Thank You!

    • Hey Forrester – thanks hey – yes I have been putting updates to the paintings on the same posting, as they are complete.
      Thanks so much for your comments. Hugeness is worth working towards though I don’t find it easy to recreate. Your comments are valuable to me and I appreciate you putting them down here. Feeling small at the beach is an evocative theme and I have painted watercolours with this unarticluated idea in mind. Something to consider for another project.
      Thanks hey – S

  5. I especially love the sea colour as it blends from Fr. Ultramarine to cerulean or manganese blues and then that wonderful creator of sunshine in this image – the yellow as you call it, or green in my books, bit of sea in the foreground shore. It really brings sunshine into this picture.
    I find that white rock in the distance just great for providing your perspective; It’s missing in the cropped one and then the picture looks less grand and magnificent, more up close and personal. Both work, but I vote for the full sheet of paper, no cropping. I think it also may be because I love the use of the almost pure Fr. Ultramarine in the top portion of the image.

    I don’t stretch my paper anymore. I’m far too lazy. I use 300 pound paper – the Arches rough, and I either push-pin it to the drawing board (my dad’s old draughting board). In my latest large watercolour, I didn’t even to that. I used fold-back clips and just concentrate the number of them in the areas where I have larger washes. It worked just fine.
    When I go to frame it, the framers have a press that they will leave it in for an hour or two and any small curvings of the paper will come out flat.

    • Hi K – That little foreground corner is really quite important. I suppose it is more green than yellow. I want to try it again with similar colours a little more saturated. Good – I will leave it un-cropped. The input from everyone here is so useful to me. There is a lot I don’t see myself.
      I am with you in the stretching department. I also work on heavier Arches and usually, in my studio at least I don’t fasten it at all for larger pieces (full and half size). Smaller pieces slide around a bit so I stick them to my board with masking tape. It is really great that you get to use your father’s drawing board. We buy and throw away so much so easily. My grandfather was an avid watercolourist but I don’t have any of his work or materials (maybe his temperament – which is another story).

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