Australian Fine Artist

Advanced Seascape Painting

Fourth in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Relating Objects in the Background to Those in the Rest of Your Composition

Most of us are aware of the concept of the foreground, middle and background divisions in compositions. These planes help the artists to create depth in a scene so that the viewer gets the impression of looking into a painting, not just at a two dimensional flat surface.

When creating these planes, however, we need to think about the relationships between items and objects in each of these areas. without a flow, or reltaitonship in a painting, we end up with a load of disjointed and unrelated objects that have no ‘conversations’ going on between them.

How to get started

Whilst making objects maintain a spearation for depth, and a relationship with each other we need to start with modifying colours. As you paint in one area, you need to be thinking about the adjacent area. By doing so, you can do things to help each area relate to the other. For example:

  1. Introduce colour from one area to the other adjacent area
  2. Soften the boundaries between two adjacent areas by running the colour from one into the edge of the other so that for a small area it takes on a little of both colours

Dynamic Shapes

Rather than repeating nearly the same shape over and over in your scene, create dynamic shapes by introducing soft and sharp corners, hard and soft shapes (circular and triangular, or squared), and mixing these with soft and hard edges, lost and found edges. By psuing and pulling the colours and sahpes in and around each other, you will crate movement, and relationships between objects.

Creating Life

You may think that adding life to a pianting means just putting people in it. On the contrary, life means action, movement,signs of other life like animals, birds, and things that are used in life like boats, cars etc. All these things can be used to unite a scene, add interest, add a sense of depth and a feeling of life. It can also be as simple as indicating the wind moving through the trees, or whpping up the surf on an ocean beach.

Sketching First

All the above ideas can be worked out when you start to plan your painting. At this point I want to emphasize the importance of preliminary sketches. It doesn’t matter if you are working form a photo or painting plein air, taking the time to work out your composition is important. Real life isn’t always the recipe for a great painting, it can however always be the start of great inspiration. Don’t be afraid to move things around and experiment with a scene to create something that is your painting, and not just your copy of a landscape, or seascape.

To Finish Off

To pull together the colours from one area to another, use a softer long hair brush so that you can get the soft finish, gently combing the colours on the edges. I tried out my synthetic brushes for this and got very good results. They are softer than the bristle oil painting brushes, and hold the paint very well. I also find that they hold their shape well.


When softening the horizon line of a seascape, think about introducing a complimentary colour as a way of relating the sea area to the sky. Many of us, me included have created very distinct horizon lines in seascapes, where in real life they are often softer due to haze, distance, and the atmosphere just above the water. To get a feeling of distance and to help to relate both these areas for a more unified look to your painting, try a soft line of a complimentary to see how it looks. It is especially good for sunsets, late afternoons and early mornings when the sun is low.


Things to Avoid

  1. Repeating the same shapes all over the painting
  2. Repeating values all over the painting, in the foreground, middle and background
  3. Failing to give a sense of 3 dimensions (depth and atmosphere)


Below is my painting from this session. There are two versions, the top one shows it with David’s changes and suggestions, the bottom one is studio altered, where I had a go at improving the scene in consideration of David’s thoughts, but still thinking about how I paint, as I am still working on developing my own style and palette.


David Suggsted that I lighten the sky, and I was already thinking it was too dark, and wanted to work on it later just for that. I softened a few areas in the mid section, added some marks to the foreground and redefined the middle outcrop by bringing in some lighter tones behind it. It’s just a little oil sketch for the workshop, so the method is something that I want to concentrate on here in contrast to a finished painting for hanging.


If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him via his website at:

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

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