What a way to spend a few hours, down on the beach amongst the reflections, the soft sand, the colours, life and action. These places provide some fantastic opportunities to try out small-scale watercolour paintings, or even some sketching on location.

Drawing figures can be a lot of fun, especially when they’re moving about. Use a medium-sized watercolour brush such as a size 8 round or size 2 squirrel mop and draw with paint, quickly marking the shapes and movement without any preliminary pencil work. As soon as you lose your way, or the figure moves out of sight, switch to the next sketch and so on. If you want to keep things to a minimum, use a broad stick of charcoal to block the shapes. Quick drawing practice like this brings movement into your work, and this is especially important when working with figures.

For a general guide, start by drawing a line the height of the figure, and then divide it in two, as shown in my diagram (below). Next, divide the top half in two and then into two again. This gives you a rough proportion for the figure using the top eighth segment as the head, halfway for the waist with legs, continuing from the sides of the torso to the base of the line. If the figure is wearing baggy clothing the waistline may be covered but it is still halfway. The line diagram ensures that you keep to the correct proportions. When you become accustomed to the build of the figure you can do away with the measuring line. Begin by blocking in the torso and legs allowing colour to fuse and blend. The flesh tones can be added after using opaque colours.

When drawing figures, start with a proportion line then build the figure around this. You can cover the waist with larger clothing if necessary when you apply the paint.

Demonstration – On the Beach


Using a 6B pencil on Saunders Waterford 140lb (300gsm) paper, I began with a loose drawing to establish the main shapes and to place the figures. Using a size 6 mop brush I washed in weak cerulean blue at the top and added a little yellow ochre where the trees are. Lower down I loosely mixed yellow ochre and perylene violet on the paper for the sand and, in a couple of places, I added a streak of cerulean blue. I worked the wash around a couple of sails, which I left as white paper.


When the previous part was dry, I started to build the painting. At the top I worked the trees, mixing yellow ochre and viridian on the paper, and adding perylene violet in the dark areas. By working the shapes together in this way I eliminated hard edges, which helped to push the distance back. For the two main figures I worked in a rather sketchy way, using a size 8 sable round brush and variants of blue and violet so that I created a contrast with the warmer sand. For flesh tones I always use a thick mixture of Naples yellow and cadmium red. I worked the figures quickly so that colours and shapes blended together, and this helped to eliminate the need for details. With French ultramarine and cadmium red I added their cast shadows.


I added the remaining people in various poses. As they recede to the distance, I made sure to hold off using bright colour and detail. This is the part that brings the painting together and it is very dependent on the subject.


On the Beach, watercolour on Saunders Waterford 140lb (300gsm) Rough, (28x19cm).

Here, there was very little to add, just one or two highlights with permanent white gouache, a few drag brush lines to suggest texture in the sand and some further shadows and masts.

Paul Talbot-Greaves has been painting for over 20 years and teaches watercolour and acrylic painting in workshops and demonstrations to art societies throughout the Midlands and the north of England. He has received many accolades and was awarded The Artist Award and the Canson Award at Patchings Art Festival 2017.

He can be contacted by email: [email protected] or through his website: www.talbot-greaves.co.uk

This demonstration is taken from the September 2018 issue of The Artist

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