Do you love visiting the beach? Summer holidays, wild winter walks along the sand dunes, sunrise or sunset along golden sands. All your senses engaged in the sounds, sights and smells of the beach and sea. It is special alright. For the artist there are subjects to paint galore. But tricky as well if you want to describe the light accurately. Mixing the color of sand, for example, is important since it is, well … the beach!
In this article I take a closer look at painting the colors of the beach. Grab your sand-board and let’s get started.
Paint the Color of Wet Sand
Most artists struggle with this one and tend to ignore it as far as possible. Maybe you have been tempted to show the white waves coming up the beach only to show sunlit dry sand immediately thereafter. No wet sand here, no sir! Unfortunately this makes the beach scene look weird. The light effect does not read correctly.
It is easier than you may think to mix the color of wet sand. Consider it logically. You have dry sand and it is warm. Seawater comes in. Wets the sand and cools it down. Two things happen right away. The light sand is now darker and it is cooler. Darker means there is a value shift from light to somewhat darker. Then there is a color temperature shift as the sand becomes cooler.
Okay the local color of the sand is, say a light yellow ochre. Make it darker and cooler and you are looking at adding a blue color of some sort. I like cerulean blue as it is cool. Cobalt blue may also do the trick. But the color you want is not greenish. Rather a dusky pink perhaps? So a little alizarin crimson too. This is a type of gray that typically describes the wet sand.
Neutral colors are critical and the sooner you familiarize yourself with mixing warm and cool neutral colors the better. Take a look at my article on this topic. This change to your color mixing skills will dramatically change your painting ability.
Angle of Viewpoint is Important
Just like reflections on water your viewpoint makes a difference. At a low angle the wet sand may be catching sky reflections. So part of the sand will be a light blue perhaps. Then as the water recedes parts of the sand will revert to the dusky pink hue.
Look for this pattern and note how it lies across the sand. You can see the horizontal patterns in the photo below. These patterns, if painted faithfully, will make the scene look and read accurately. This in turn carries off the illusion very well.
Position of the Sun
Your relative position towards the sun will dramatically change the sand color too. In the photo above the sun is behind me. The sky is bluer and the colors of the sand come out better. There is more variety of color and this approach leads to a more colorful painting.
However when you face the sun the scene changes dramatically. This contre jour approach alters your perception of color. Note from the photo below how light colors are extreme against the darker sand. Contrast between extreme light reflections and darker sand colors dominate the scene.
Light and Shade Colors on the Beach
A popular subject on the beach is the beautiful shadows created by sand dunes. This is why timing your painting at the beach is so important. Early mornings and late afternoons have angled light which creates more shadows. The light and shadow patterns make stunning subjects. However when the sun is high up the beach becomes a giant reflector and colors are blown out.
Consider the photo below and note the light and shade differences. Note that the shadow will have blue. But the shadow also warms up as it approaches the light. The shadow value will also lighten as more reflected light meets the shadow’s edge.
Also note how the warm sand color further away is more saturated than the brighter sand color close up. This is an effect of timing as the sun was casting warm light early in the morning and appearing brighter closer to me.
(That’s my impatient dog sending me mind messages)
The Expressive Paint Colors of Sand
By seeing these many colors like an artist and mixing paint accordingly your paintings will have a compelling truth to them. This will make them attractive to potential collectors for good reason. These colors are the sign of a skilled artist telling a story in paint.
But color does not end there. Once you see these colors you can push them to convey emotional content too. For instance on intense Summer days the beach sand becomes really hot. You know how it feels to your bare feet? You find yourself scampering over the hot sand to cool your toes in the seawater. How do you convey that heat in your paintings?
An example could be to mix the sunlit sand color pinker and lighter in value. Then the shadows a more saturated blue. Perhaps cobalt blue with a little white and alizarin to reach a cool violet blue shade that resonates against the light pink of the sand. Other bright colors like umbrellas and sunbather’s towels can add that zing to pull it all together. The overall scene has a strong emotive feeling of a blisteringly hot day on the beach.
Another example is sunset colors across the beach. Deep warm yellows, oranges and cool blue-violet shadows create another mood entirely. More value contrast emphasizes long shadows. You could push those warm colors a bit more to convey the idea. Plus use thick paint in the sunlit portions. A painting knife can be used too for added energy. The shadow by contrast will have thinner paint. Now this texture contrast makes for an interesting painting surface too.
Focus on the Light
Ultimately by keeping your goal fixed on painting light you will convey what is important. Forget the tiny details of objects. Rather focus on the broad strokes of color and value. Use big brushes, lots of paint and get the pattern of shapes in place. This alone will make your paintings stand out. It is all about seeing and then painting with intention. Know what it is you need to communicate (Light and atmosphere) and mix your colors to achieve that goal.
Grab this Free Color Painting Guide (pdf)
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