Beach Underpainting Process

I recently challenged myself to create a saltmarsh beach painting using a more vibrant pallet. I had noticed that many pastel painters used an underpainting to create a finished piece that glowed with colour. So, I set off to achieve the same result.

Here you can see my photographic reference that I had to work with:

I liked how the late afternoon sun was cast across the beach path. I could see purple shades subtly coming through in the shadowed areas. I also liked how the path led the eye out to the sea beyond. The sky was simple, so I felt it needed a few clouds which I would add later. 
I began a rough pencil sketch, choosing to widen the painting as I considered using it as the cover for my next book.

I liked how the late afternoon sun was cast across the beach path. I could see purple shades subtly coming through in the shadowed areas. I also liked how the path led the eye out to the sea beyond. The sky was simple, so I felt it needed a few clouds which I would add later.

I began a rough pencil sketch, choosing to widen the painting as I considered using it as the cover for my next book. 

Worktable with pastels and painting, with laptop showing reference image.

I began my underpainting by scumbling in some warmish tones using oranges and yellows. I used rust colours lightly and let the colours merge together and dance. Accuracy was not important to me at this point. It was fun doing this.

Initial underpainting.

I then laid in some darker values using purples and blues for shadow areas, being careful not to fill the tooth of the paper.

Beach Underpainting Process 1

I wanted to add my own flare and accentuate areas in the painting such as the pathway. The addition of other pathways to the left helped draw the eye out to the sea.

I did not choose colours that were dominant in my final piece but chose to use colours that were opposite on the colour wheel, such as various hues of purple and blue.

I must admit I was worried about layering my final colours over the top of these colours as they were quite strong, but I persevered and believed in the process.

This was the foundation to my painting!

The grasses pulled me towards the sky, which I changed from my reference by adding a few clouds, to make it more interesting. I placed darker values in the foreground, especially on the right side of the pathway where it was in shadow. I also had to remember that the light was coming from the right side. 

Beach Underpainting Process 2

I used very little pressure in applying my colours and didn’t press too hard. I had read that it was important not to fill the tooth of the paper! And so, to my final rendering of colours. 

My goal was not to cover the underpainting up, but to have the colours show through! I tried not to overwork it and made sure my strokes were varied and used effectively, with correct placement.  I wanted to create the impression of beach grasses rather than paint every single one. I also threw a few final splash marks in, to highlight grasses that were caught in the sunlight. To point my grass heads, so some reached out to my focal point where the path reached the ocean.

Beach Underpainting Process 3

I was happy with my first go at using the underpainting process. I am always wanting to learn, and so any thoughts from fellow artists are welcomed. 

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7 Responses

  1. Beautiful. I love the choice of colours for the underpainting especially. Did you use any alcohol for your underpainting please.?

    1. I was tempted to use alcohol, but felt the warm under painting would bring out more brilliance in the final piece. I intentionally left a few chinks of the color to pop through in places.

  2. Thank you for sharing blogs from so many different artists! It is the differences that always informs new work. Thank you, Daniel!

    Ginny Stocker

  3. Thanks Daniel your painting is lovely. what paper did you use ? Sand paper it looks like. A simple photo that can look good. Sometimes you don’t have to follow the photo. colours are good.

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