Sue Sareen turns colour theory upside down as she heads for the sea with her watercolours

Observing the sea is always fascinating.  So many things affect its appearance:  mood, colour, light and shade, time of day, the weather and season.  Analysing the way waves move, swell and crash onto the shore can keep you absorbed for hours.  Quick studies in situ are so important with this subject.  Photographs can also be very useful, as they fix the instant that the wave breaks, or the spray flies, so you can see clearly what happens.  With more time and ease, they can be referred to once back home in the studio.

Colour is crucial when painting the sea, and the weather determines this to a great extent.  A bright sunny day, or one that is overcast and stormy will result in very different colours taking precedence, and of course the sea looks very different at different times of the day.

One of the problems is that colour theory tends to be turned upside down when painting the sea.  With landscapes colours generally become paler and cooler as they recede.  However, the reverse of this is often true with the sea.  The deep blue sea on the horizon may be a dark line, becoming lighter and greener as it approaches.  In the shallows near the beach it is often a green yellow, where the yellow sand shines through.  But, if the light is shining over the horizon, the reverse can be true, and the sea will be lighter than the sky.

Simple study

A very limited palette comprising three ‘Yarka’ Russian paints was used in this study (below). These included Russian blue, (similar to Prussian or Winsor blue) a cool, transparent blue, burnt sienna which is a brownish red, and yellow ochre, a soft warm yellow.