Longing for the sea during lockdown, I decided to have a look through some of my old travel photos from trips around the coast.
I did a few thumbnail sketches looking at different images; I liked the diagonal composition in the first sketch. I used an Acrylic Marker by Daler Rowney (FW Marker) filled with Sepia High flow acrylic (Golden Paints).
I settled on an image looking down on some fishing boats, moored in the harbour of St Ives, Cornwall.
You can download a reference image below to follow along with this acrylic lesson, hope you enjoy it!
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be downloaded, so you can use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the steps below. (The size of the image is 1:1 to the size I painted, so slightly larger than an A4 printout)
You can download a larger version of the image here.
Materials you will need:
- 8 x 12.75-inch (20 x 32.4cm) canvas or board
I’ve used a canvas based on the Golden Ratio or Golden Section. This a ratio of 1.618:1 and found in many examples of architecture because of it’s aesthetically pleasing nature. This one is from Jackson’s Art in the UK, (they are labelled GS range) you can also get them from Dick Blick in the US. You could easily adapt the composition to a different smaller ratio if you fancy it, but this gives it a bit more of a panoramic feel to the painting.
- Pale Umber – Galeria range Winsor & Newton (or you can mix your own using Burnt Umber and Titanium White)
- Green Gold (Golden Paints)
- Cadmium Yellow Light (Golden Paints)
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton)
- Ultramarine Blue (Golden Paints)
- Burnt Umber (Golden Paints)
- Phthalo Blue – Green Shade (Golden Paints)
- Rosemary & Co, Golden Synthetic, Series 302, Size 10
- Isabey Isacryl Size 6, Series 6572 filbert shape
- Medium round synthetic
- Small round synthetic
- Kuru Toga 0.5 mm Mechanical pencil, HB
- Glazing Liquid Gloss (Golden Paints)
- Palette Knife (I use an RGM diamond shape size 45)
(Left to right: small synthetic round, medium synthetic round, Rosemary & Co Flat size 10, Isabey Isacryl Filbert, size 6
Step #1. Mixing a coloured ground
I worked on a colour ground for this painting, using a mix of Pale Umber, which is the Galeria range from Winsor & Newton. You can’t get this in the artists quality range, but essentially it’s a mix of Burnt Umber and Titanium White. I’ve mixed in a little bit of Green Gold, which is an absolutely fantastic green because it has an amazing glow to it.
There is a green undertone to the sea, and you get some of that plankton or Algae that are built up onto the side of the old fishing boats, so it’s only a subtle glow, but it will help to bring that colour field together for the painting.
I applied the coloured ground, slightly diluted with water, using a 1 1/2 -inch Purdy Monarch Elite decorators brush, with a light stroke as I don’t want too much texture onto the canvas surface.
(If you want to learn more about the benefits of painting on a coloured ground see: How a prepared canvas can drastically improve your paintings)
Step #2. Drawing out the image with a mechanical pencil
I’ve drawn out the subject with a mechanical pencil. This is a Kuru Toga Roulette pencil from Uni-Ball, with an HB lead.
I’m initially looking at the pattern across the frame. What’s great with the size of the canvas is, you get this nice diagonal appearing across the surface, which brings in movement into the scene. So, even though the boats are moored, there’s still a dynamic flow to it, due to the diagonal angles of the boat. I also like how you’ve just got a couple of ropes coming from the boats, they go off the canvas just out of the frame, but this helps to allude to the sense of some kind of human presence within the scene.
I indicate the main shapes and areas of shade to give me a rough value map of the light and shadow pattern.
Colour palette choice
(Left to right: Phthalo Blue (Green Shade), Burnt Umber
Because this is a cooler painting, I’m going to be using a cool blue Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) and a warm brown, Burnt Umber, for the blocking of the shadows.
Step #3. Blocking-in the shadow tones
So I start the block-in, diluting with water using a medium round brush. I’m looking for the darkest tones in the shadow of the sea and then looking at those shapes and how they form around the boats. The Phthalo Blue gives a lovely rich muted green when mixed with the Burnt Umber.
Step #4. Adding warmth to the boats
Then just with the Burnt Umber in a very light watery wash, I indicate where the warmth is in the boats – on the wooden decking and the bottom of the boat on the far right side.
When you’re only using a couple of colours to start with, you’ll notice all the subtle shifts in colour that you can’t achieve, which will help you determine the next pigments you might use. I began to notice that for the nearside boat in the shade, it needs a warmer blue than the Phthalo Blue Green Shade, so I’m going to introduce an Ultramarine Blue to block those in.
Step #5. Introducing a warm blue in the shadows
Here you can see the warmer blue into the shadows. I also mix a strong blue for the central boat.
In the shadow tones on the central boat, I noticed on the reference image a purple tint and there’s a little yellow hue in the centre of the boat. So I put out the rest of my palette to achieve these tones.
(Left to right: Green Gold, Permanet Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White)
Step #6. Pushing the sea towards turquoise
The sea in the reference image is a green-blue, but I thought I’d try pushing it to be a bit more turquoise.
So for the block-in of the sea, I’m using a Phthalo Blue Green Shade and Titanium White mix and then toning that down with Burnt Umber, which. takes it a more muted tone and kind of more towards green.
Step #7. Strengthening the shadow tones.
As I block in the sea area, I leave a few little glimpses of our coloured ground underneath, just showing through. I also strengthen the colours on the boat shadows in the water.
Now I’ve got all that in; I can start to work on the paler shadows within the boats.
Step #8. Observing the shadows in the boats
I’ve added a very subtle shift from purple to blue to the shadow on the very rear of the central boat. It will show more clearly when white is next to it.
Step #9. Adding our lightest light
Now with some pure Titanium White blocked in, you can really see the form of the boat come to life. It feels more lifelike, with a real sense of three-dimensional depth to it.
Step #10. Balancing cool greys
I add some cooler greys to the far boat and also add a pattern of light and dark in-between the boards on the central boat. These little dashes if white can really help to move the viewer’s eye around the painting.
Step #11. Adding details to the boats
I then paint in a lighter pale brown using Burnt Umber, Titanium White, and a little Cadmium Yellow Light mix. I also paint in some more fine details on the ropes. Having these darker lines move across the frame help to bring movement to the foreground.
Also, notice the little dark dashes on the far boat, just like the white dashes in-between the boards on the central boat, these help to add an impression of detail.
Step #12. Experimenting with a glaze
I paint in the red buoys using the Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light and darkened with the Burnt Umber.
I also add a little glaze of Green Gold diluted with Glazing Liquid Gloss, to the water in the foreground to see how well it would work.
Step #13. Adding glimmer to the water
Fishing Boats, St Ives, Will Kemp, Acrylic on Canvas
I felt the glaze darkened down the water a little too much, so I added back in some thicker turquoise paint using the filbert brush into the foreground water.
I really hope you enjoy the lesson, and it is reminiscent of those long summer days exploring coastal paths, and giving you a sense of coastal calm.