Painting any body of water using watercolours is a great way of practising a variety of watercolour techniques: glazing, directional brushstroke, dry brushstroke, splash painting and wet on wet.

To make a credible sea green: viridian green, pthalo blue and zinc white. Mix the viridian and white in equal quantities and then vary the colour by taking a small quantity of your mix and adding differing amounts of phtalo blue to small portions of the mixture so you have a palette of differing sea green colours. Remember: it is far better to mix too much colour than too little. Watercolour remains useable for a very long time after mixing. I often use palettes from previous years that are applicable to the subject matter I am painting. 

To complete this painting make a careful line drawing of the surfer, the two dogs, the surf board and the paddle. A person is seven head heights in length – a useful measure to remember. Do not make the dog too big on the surfers back, this will make the shape look top heavy and clumsy. Mark in the very high horizon line a the back and also a very light pencil line for the swell of the wave behind the surfer. 

Colours for the surfer and dogs: flesh tone, three different grades from light to dark, blue – a cerulean, browns – three from light to dark, purple and black. Work these figures in glazes where you let the paint dry and work the next layer on to dry paint. Use small round headed brushes throughout the painting of the figures, I call this Paint Drawing, you are actually using the brush more like a drawing implement than a brush, the bold brushstrokes in this painting occur when you paint in the sea. Work from light to dark, do not go in too quickly with dark tones, this is not the technique for this painting, you will quickly loose the figures into the sea behind. I worked four glazes from light to dark. There is brilliant sun on this Australian coast line so the darks are really dark and the lights are really light, the principle of light and dark should be evident on these figures. The surf board is a key part of this composition: it binds the focal points together. Use a strong artificial blue – a man made pigment – such as Prussian blue.  

Brushes to use for the sea: a large round headed brush, a fan brush and a large chisel brush.  

Directional brushstrokes: use the rounded headed brush – apply to the dark sea green and make bold heavy brush marks on your paper, using the painting above as a guide. The direction of your brushstrokes is a key part of making a body of water “move”. Leave areas of the paper white. Now take your fan brush and apply paint to the tip only, flick the paint on to the paint and use the side of the brush to make further bold brush marks. Use your chisel brush wet and then tap any excess water on to dry paper. Apply the brush to cover more areas of the paper, all the time vary the light and dark sea greens. 

When that is 100% dry (I painted this over two days, always a good idea when working in glazes) take a zinc white and your large round headed brush. You are going to make the sea look very misty – wet the brush and apply the white paint. Use a circular brushstroke to apply the paint, in thin layers. I worked three layers on to the paper.


For the distant smaller waves: wet the paper and let the water soak into the paper (when the paper is no longer glossy it has been absorbed), paint lines of your sea green mix, horizontally, the paint will diffuse slightly. Take a clean round headed brush and dip into your white paint, use smaller circular brushstrokes to suggest distant movement on the sea. Keep all the tones in this light, if you apply strong tone you will lose the impression of distance.


The sky has a slight purple tinge to it – I used a Potter’s Pink which has a wonderful purple hue but only applied the smallest amount of paint to the sky area so it really fades into the distance.