You may be used to seeing watercolour paintings have desaturated pastel colour schemes, but that’s not the only way they work! Elina Zhelyazkova joined us for a FREE Demo recently in which she shared her technique for making a seascape with rich, dreamy colours.

Let’s follow along step by step to learn her secrets!

Step 1: A Light Sketch

Draw a faint indication of the horizon line and a little sailboat, just dark enough to see but not so dark that it will show through the paint later on.

Step 2: A Generous Wash

Wet the entire page so it’s nice and glossy, then lay it on an object so that it’s sloping downward instead of flat on the table. Gravity will help create the effect we’re going for with the clouds, so if you don’t let the page slope downward on you might struggle to get the desired result.

Then, load up your brush with ultramarine and boldly start painting at the top! You’ll spread the paint downward and let gravity help, leaving plenty of white for the clouds.

Your brush should be thoroughly loaded when you start painting. Use more paint than you feel like you need. The way you achieve bold colour is by being bold!

Step 3: Mountains

To add some realism, we will put some mountains in the background. Mix some browns and reds of your choice with that ultramarine to make it more neutral for a believable background!

Then, lightly paint along the horizon line, varying the amount of paint in each area for some visual interest.

Once the first layer of mountains is dry, deepen the blue mixture and add a second layer, overlapping the first. The image will have more depth and interest now because you’ll get to see a range of mountains that goes back into space.

Step 4: The Sea

This is another exciting step with lots of vibrant blue! Wet the sea area of the page first, then load the brush with tons of paint like you did for the sky. You’ll be using ultramarine and mixing it with other colours as you see fit to show different areas of waves and light patterns.

The foreground will have more green in it, so if you have a cool viridian green, that’s ideal. Remember the rules of atmospheric perspective, and put the warmer colours like the green towards the front and the cooler purple tones in the back.

Depending on how pigmented your paints are, it might take you a couple of layers to get the dark tones you want. I personally decided to let the first layer dry and then go in again since I wanted my shadows a bit deeper.

Step 5: Cool Sea Foam Effect

Place a paper or napkin over the sky and boat so that these lovely splatters of ultramarine stay where they belong.

Elina demonstrated how she likes to add some bubbles to the water by tapping a loaded brush over the page, so I did this technique as well, and I think the result was good!

Step 6: The Boat

Using some of your darker paint, gently outline the boat sketch for yourself. Not all of this will be covered up in the end, so be careful.

Fill in the hull of the boat with the darkest paint you have mixed, and take as many layers as you need to make it pop from the background.

Step 7: The Sail

For this step, Elina mixes some aquamarine coloured watercolour with white gouache. Even if you’re not a gouache artist, having a tube of white gouache in your watercolour set is so helpful for adding details like this that need to be opaque at the very end of a process.

White gouache has so many uses. Here's a more in-depth article on mixing white gouache with watercolour. 

Step 8: Subjective Finishing Touches

At this point, you are working on the painting according to your own judgement until you believe it is done. I added a few seagulls overhead with ultramarine paint.

I then used some white gouache around the boat to define it more, added some indications of highlights on the water, and checked on the colours and values one more time to make sure the image was well-balanced.

This is a good time for your individuality to shine!

I hope you enjoyed working on this painting! Elina Zhelyazkova is a wonderful teacher and a great painter to emulate if you want to get good. If you want to learn more from her, I highly recommend that you check out her 90-minute class!

You can also sign up to our email newsletter for more updates on our upcoming live classes with incredible artists.

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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