Australian Fine Artist

Painting Seascapes

David Chen’s 9 Monthly Art Workshops

These notes are from my most recent all day workshop with David Chen. Each full day covers over five hours of theory and practical work, and are planned by David to help us to understand an important aspect of planning, composing and creating our paintings so that they not only look beautiful but also look “right” as far as tonal contrast, perspective, composition, colour mixing and application of our paint.

Our session today was about the Australian beach. Particularly taken from a photographic reference.

The photo is just that – a reference. It is up to you as the artist to decide how you are going to interpret it to reflect your own style. What works as a photo doesn’t always translate to a great painting. Look at the values (tones). where are the darks, mid tones and lights? How many elements are in each and how do I translate these into tonal values and colour with paint?

With a still life as you look at an apple for example, you will see ranges of tone from your highlights through you mid tones to the shadows and the reflected light in these, giving you a large range of tonal values to deal with. These values give your subject shape and perspective. A seascape is no different. Or even a portrait, if you look at Vermeer or Rembrandt you will se the use of tonal values to give the faces depth, form (or modelling) and perspective.

Look for your tonal ranges in your subject, if they are not all there you need to start making decisions about where you are going to put them to make the painting work.

Start your painting with all the large shapes and your darks and work towards smaller and lighter with your high key focal points and little marks to create texture in last. Keep in mind that you can be faithful to the general feel of a place without having to fill in every little detail, especially if your goal is a more impressionist style of painting.

General things to think about is the sky doesn’t have to be just blue, try creating some drama with use of warmer colours to balance against the cools you will put into your sea. the sea doesn’t have to be all blue, tone down your blue with use of greens and nice tonal ranges with addition of white or another blue such as Tasman Blue which is a greener blue. Make sure that you “break” your lines so that the painting doesn’t look “stiff” or divide one part of the scene off from another restricting the flow of the eye around the work.

Get the method right first when learning: Method is the decision making of looking at a reference and knowing how to spot the lights, darks, mids tonally and how you will translate these into paint. Your method is unique to you, how you decide to use methods of composition (rule of thirds for example versus other methods of dividing up a composition) makes your work unique to you. After this comes the technique.

David emphasised the importance of drawing at this point. Going out and drawing sketches on site as well as taking photos is very important to the learning process. The real world changes all the time so you cant take all day to get a scene done, the light changes, things move, so you need to get quick impressions of a place. Doing drawings and quick oil, pastel or water colour sketches teaches your eye to take in information and process it efficiently and you get a feel for a place. You can then take this back to the studio with your photo reference to create a finished work.

Day Eight

Workshop Plan:

  • Demonstration of Painting Seascapes
  • Practical Painting of a Seascape
  • Paint Another Version or a New Scene of a Seascape
  • Paint-on critique


Try painting a seascape scene with a simple palette of colours such as Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow, Australian Red Gold, Tasman Blue, a mix of Cadmium Red and Yellow for an Orange and a mix of Permanent Crimson and Viridian for the very darkest darks in such things as rocks for example.

As you work your way through the painting, at some stage stop using your reference photograph and make the painting your own by seeing it as a painting rather than a copy of a photo which may have a limited tonal range.

During these exercises composition is not the main aim, I was totally unconcerned with creating a finished painting but learning the lesson of creating a loose and “fluid” seascape with broad strokes and little over blending. That does not mean that the aim of creating a painting that works is not on my mind at all as I like the balance and flow of my works to look correct.

Below are the works I did at the workshop. They could always be improved but I was not aiming at completing a finished artwork, but at practice pieces. They reflect process and not completion and as such I am happy.

The shoreham painting needs the blue sea to be broken up with some greens and another blue but I am happy with the loose look of the crashing waves.

The Seaford Painting is the one I did in the afternoon. There are a few strokes from David in this and the figures really do look better than I had them. I didn’t think the foreshore was working but David was happy with what I did there, as well as the sky. I may revisit this scene in another painting in the future and apply the techniques that I was shown in this one.

Shorham Seaford

David looked at all our works at the end of the day and showed us where our paintings could be improved. He put a few marks on one of my works to simplify the background and fixed my people as I only used large brushes on the day and they were in need of help.

David said he liked my second painting more than the first. I did as well, considering that I don’t think I do my best work in the morning after a long drive.

I plan to keep painting and drawing seascapes and modifying my style and methods as it is a subject that i enjoy doing as well as taking the time to go out and photograph for references. I just need to find some subjects that catch my eye. I have a few new references from photos taken in recent months so will need to have a look and make some plans.

Thank you David for yet another fantastic workshop!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: