Watercolor Painting of a Wet Beach with a Sky Reflection

What Do Plein Air Painters Do When It Rains? 

No, it’s not a joke but it sounds like one. In my case, stay at home.

However, some artists, David Bellamy comes to mind, seem impervious to the weather. I’ve seen him on his DVDs paint at sea in a small boat while it’s raining and his wash is just sluicing down the paper; and I’ve seen him on top of a mountain in winter painting and there is ice in his washes! 

You can see this for yourself on youtube just type in David Bellamy Learn to Paint Watercolour Adventures. These two DVDs are absolutely hilarious but also inspirational.

What makes this even more comical is that he carries on painting and speaking in this extremely calm gentleman’s voice as if everything is fine as his painting is quickly destroyed by the elements; after watching this I’m ashamed to admit that I get upset by a drop of rain on my paper.

I really admire this artist and his seemingly unconquerable spirit. And, of course, I love that mild manner if only I could be so relaxed about it all and not so reactive; I aspire to be like this.

So, last Monday I had planned to go to Ogata and paint the tulips. This is my second attempt and for the second time I couldn’t. This time it was because of rain. 

Being unable to paint outside is really frustrating for me; it is not simply that the outdoors inspires me more but that it is such a sheer pleasure to the senses and my whole being.

Outdoors I can feel the epic size of the world around me, indoors I have a studio about the size of a big wardrobe. It makes a difference. 

Outdoors I paint with a feeling of intimacy and immediacy, indoors I paint from another painting or one of my digital images.

The one advantage of painting indoors is that you can really experiment and I often paint over old paintings that are rejects and thus I don’t have to be careful and can really try everything and anything.

Here is one such experiment.

This was painted over another painting of a sea scene with a big part of the picture being the sky. You can’t see the whole picture sadly but you can see the top of some cumulus clouds at the bottom of the paper. 

I changed the background into a beach scene simply by adding a strip of blue for the sea and, with a big dry brush, a band of green for some headland.

Then I added a few figures.

I was delighted with the result.

This idea of turning a sky scene into a beach scene came by accident on a previous occasion.

I was indoors and just doodling over old paintings. I paint over old paintings or do little doodles over them because it seems wasteful to throw away such paper after only using it one time and watercolor paper is expensive.

Anyway, I was practicing painting figures over a failed painting and I was painting the figures over the sky part of the original painting and I really liked how powerful the figures looked against this unintentional background and I had the idea at that time that I could turn this into a beach scene with the sky being reflected in the beach.

Note: here is a creative tip that has truly blessed me. If you have mucked up your watercolor painting don’t throw it away. Instead, use it as scrap paper for doing doodles or experiments upon. Now and again, and completely unintentionally, the combination of your doodle and the background will trigger the idea for a new painting. 

So, returning to the story.

Today, I actually tried out that idea and am very happy with the result. 

I think this is a very powerful image because the figures are like crosshairs on a rifle with the beach creating a strong horizontal and the figures with their shadows cutting vertically across this horizontal line. These crosshair-like figures attract the attention of the eye and give it a focusing point.

So, then, I took this experiment and had a go on a pristine sheet of paper.

I’m quite happy with the result. I love the feeling of space in this painting; this is something my paintings rarely have. But I’m not sure if it is too spacious and the sky too weak. 

I will have another go anyway. And I can paint some variations of this creative idea and with any experiment it’s always exciting to see what the results will be when you make changes.


This story was originally written in April of 2014. I’m editing this story in April of 2021. I don’t think I did any more paintings of beaches with sky reflections but even after all this time it is something that I am still very interested in doing. I have, though, done many paintings of beach scenes and will add a link to a small gallery of them at some point. I still find the surface of wet beaches irresistibly intriguing and beautiful.

Gareth Naylor

I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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