If you’ve ever wanted to paint a seascape in gouache but have no idea where to start, artist Sergio Lopez has your back!

In this workshop, he shows clear steps on how to progress from blocking in shapes to adding details for a cohesive and strong seaside composition.

Step 1: Preparations

To follow along, you’ll need" a cold press A4 watercolour sketchbook, gouache paints, a palette, a ¾”, ½”, and ¼” flat brush, a size 3 round brush, a ¾” Grainer brush, 2 containers of water, and paper towels. You should also use artist’s tape to tape the edges of your sketchbook before painting to get a clean border.

For paint colours, you’ll need: titanium white, zinc white, azo or Cadmium yellow, Naples yellow, yellow ochre, permanent yellow-orange, cadmium orange, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, spectrum (or quinacridone) violet, ultramarine blue, aqua blue, sap green, green gold, viridian, Payne’s grey, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber and brilliant pink.

Tip: These are the colours Sergio uses, but if you don’t have any of them, feel free to replace them with the closest hue or mix them to the best of your ability!

Having the reference photo on hand or on screen is also a good idea.

Once you’re ready, you can do a quick sketch of the seascape using the ¼” flat brush and any dark neutral colour you may have on your palette. While Sergio often skips this step, it’s good to practise getting the basic shapes and forms down for your composition, so you at least know the rough positions of everything.

The great thing about gouache is you can constantly shift things around later by painting over the previous layers!

Don’t worry about the details; just focus on simplifying the basic shapes of the cliff and rocks. Mark out the position of the horizon line and where the shoreline is.

Step 2: Base Colours

Next, switch to a large mop or ¾” flat brush, and paint in a lighter wash of your base colours. Starting with the sky, use a diluted aqua blue to block in its colour.

You’ll notice that the top of the sky is more saturated than the bottom, where it meets the horizon, so you can also paint in that effect by diluting your paint more as you go down.

For the cliff in the background, block it in using azo yellow, then mix in a little cadmium orange before painting the lower area. Add a little burnt sienna to this mixture, and continue painting the area of the beach that’s still wet from the waves.

Add ultramarine blue and brilliant pink to this whole mixture, and paint the rest of the beach (the sandy area). For now, you can paint over the rocks since this layer is quite light and diluted.

Add aqua blue back to your mixture, and paint in the sea with this slightly dirty blue. Then, use burnt umber to paint the smaller rock on the left. Mix in permanent white with the umber, and dilute it a bit, so it’s light before painting the large white rock on the left.

Throughout this step, keep your paint quite diluted, almost like a watercolour consistency.

This is part of the “establishment phase”, where you get the most important information down first, such as form and base colours.

Step 3: Building Mid-Tones

Using the ¾” flat brush, mix burnt sienna with a bit of cadmium red, and block in the darker foliage seen on the top of the cliff. The consistency of your paint should be a little creamier than before but not fully opaque.

Mix in a touch of burnt umber and spectrum violet, and paint in some of the darker shadows along the rocky surface of the cliff. Mix in red and a little azo yellow, then paint in the mid-tones along the edges of the rocks and along the bottom of the cliff.

Tip: While shadows are typically supposed to be a cooler colour, the warmth of the sun and the orange rocks make them look warmer than usual. This is why Sergio is mixing in warmer colours like red and orange into his mid-tones, which he will later balance out with some cooler mixes.

Paint in the rocks along the beach in the same darker brown colour, and the small cave on the cliffside. Switch to azo yellow to strengthen the mid-tones along the area to the right of the white rock, then go back to the light grey to darken the mid-tones in the white rock.

Use a more saturated version of the burnt sienna and umber mixture to paint over the rocks on the beach, then use a more diluted version to paint the reflections of the cliffside’s shadows along the surface of the sea.

Slightly darken the edges of the water using a light mix of pink and ultramarine blue, then block in the sandy area with a more saturated mixture of aqua blue, pink, and burnt umber.

Step 4: Adding Shadows

To paint the shadows, switch to the ¼” flat brush, and mix a dark blue/purple using ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and spectrum violet. Next, paint in the shadow edges along the boulder on the left side, and a shadow cast by the rock on the beach.

Add any other very dark shadows you see along the cliffside, especially for the small cave and the area where the cliff meets the sea.

Step 5: Building Layers

Now you can really begin to flesh out your cliff! Use the ¾” flat brush to mix titanium white and azo yellow, then paint in the chalky surfaces you can see in the exposed areas of the cliff.

Paint in the same colour for the reflection in the water, then mix titanium white with a touch of yellow ochre and azo yellow for a cooler light yellow. Use this different yellow to paint the yellowish areas of the white rock.

Mix cadmium orange with white and burnt umber for a light peach colour, and use the ¼” flat brush to paint in the shadows of the white rock.

Keep refining these shapes of highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. At this point, your painting should look about halfway finished! This marks the end of the “establishment phase”.

Step 6: Shape Comparison

Step back and observe the contrast of warm and cool colours, and how the shapes juxtapose against one another. Doing this helps you see where you need to adjust the colours and contrasts of certain things, and what to work on for the rest of the painting.

To paint the foliage growing on top of the cliff, add a little sap green and zinc white to your previous orange/brown mixture. It should look like a very earthy brown-green that’s more of a mid-tone than a highlight.

Add this colour to the areas you see are sort-of green, using the reference photo as a guide. Then, keep blocking in shapes with your flat brush using the edge or even the entire flat side at different angles to make different types of brushstrokes and textures.

Add orange to the greenish mixture, and dab in some of this among the foliage. The value should still be quite similar, but the different colour contrasts make the painting look much more lively and adds a lot of depth!

Mix in burnt sienna for a darker foliage colour, and paint in the highlight of the small rock in the little valley of the cliff. Add more highlights in the previous light peach colour you had, then use a saturated azo yellow mixed with a touch of zinc white to strengthen the colour of the exposed cliffside.

Tip: You shouldn’t paint large areas in one colour; you can pick out shapes to block in a certain colour and let the underlying layers shine through in others!

Adjust the shadows you have by using burnt sienna and umber, and make small marks on the cliffside for notches in the cliff and rocks. You can also adjust the mid-tones in the white rock and use pure titanium white to bring back the highlights along the top.

Step 7: More Details

Add more white to the light yellow mixture, and add back the highlights to the cliffside. They shouldn’t be as white as the white rock, but still lighter than the surrounding areas.

Tip: You can even add a little texture by allowing your brush to leave behind some brush marks. This gives the cliff face a rocky, rough look.

Add a touch of pink to your light yellow mixture, and paint in a small pink area in the cliffside. Then, add a touch of green to that mixture to turn it a warm light grey, and paint some areas with this.

The key here is to break up the cliffside into different blocky shapes, with the shapes getting smaller as you reach the tip of the cliff.

Darken the underside of the cliff using an azo yellow and orange mixture, and keep making sure that the lights are clearly distinguishable from your darks. If you ever make a mistake, though, you can always correct it by painting over it! Gouache tends to dry lighter, so you’ll need to take this into account.

Mix pink with white, ultramarine blue, and spectrum violet for a lighter purple, and paint the underside of the cliff for a warmer shadow. Purple is also a complementary colour to yellow, so it will really help your painting pop! It also acts as a natural shadow against the oranges and yellows.

Refine the details on the boulders on the beach, adjusting the values as you go to really make them look like boulders. The edges should be sharp and jagged and remember to add highlights to the tops of these rocks.

These rocks also have a shadowed side, so add more of the lighter purple colour to indicate this. The darkest shadows should still be that very dark blue/purple colour, though.

Step 8: Final Touches

Enhance the waves in the sea by adding your purple mixture to the aqua blue mixture you used for the sea, then darken the edges of the waves in the water. Adjust the shimmering part of the sea reflecting the sky to a lighter blue, then add this highlight to the crests of the waves.

Next, add some grassy texture to your foliage using the ¾” Grainer brush and the green/orange mixture. Do this by gently touching the frayed edge of the brush and dabbing it along certain areas. If you don’t have a Grainer brush, you can use any flat brush and splay the bristles a little.

You can add this texture along the edges of the foliage as well to soften the edges of your paint, though use the burnt sienna mixture for this. Add as much texture as your painting needs, and readjust your darkest shadows in the rocks, the cliffside, and the cave.

You could even add more red into your shadow mixture to get a really warm shadow! This helps show the effect sunlight has on warming the whole scene.

Adjust any mid-tones as needed, then use the ¼” flat brush and titanium white paint to squiggle in the waves lapping onto the shore. Add a little of this to the reflection as well, making zig-zag horizontal lines for that shimmery effect.

Once you feel like you’re done, you’re done! Of course, you could always work on it for a lot longer, but as Sergio recommends, if it’s just a practise, then it’s fine to leave it slightly unrefined.

Feel free to sign your painting, peel off the artist’s tape, and share your results with Sergio and us! Don’t forget to check out his 90-minute class!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy.

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