My inspiration for this was a little shell I found on the beach. And I wanted to play with violet!

I drew out the basic shapes with #2 pencil – nothing fancy. Strapped down the paper and got the trusty Fineline Mask. First I outlined the shell with mask.

I added a little mask for sand in the center and a few highlights.

If you look at the bottom left corner of the page, that is the little arrow I drew to remind me of the direction of light so that I can get the shadows in the  right places.

Masking fluid on paper

Now more Fineline to start drawing out the sea foam.

I have penciled in the basic shapes and areas of flow of the foam but it still takes on a life of its own as I doodle it out and around.

Masking fluid on paper

There is no magic or shortcuts in how I do the foam. I just start drawing circles and ovals.

masking fluid on paper

Here you can see the faint pencil lines and where I have drawn the outlines of rocks. The way the circles travel, I can’t totally follow the lines. And the circles are never going to be perfect circles, but then again, they aren’t in nature either. The larger ones are harder as in real life, with the smaller foam bubbles, there is a fair amount of deviation and overlap.

Masking fluid on paper

It is starting to take form. I am using this big shell for shape and a tiny one for color.

Yes, the tip of the Fineline masking fluid sometimes blobs or gets a little gunky and I am constantly wiping it on the edge of my drawing board. That’s what all those little globs are.

Masking the shell

Here I have masked in some of the rocks and I am working on the flow of the foam. The way it moves will influence how your eye will travel around the piece. 

Masking fluid on paper

After I am happy with the flow, I start adding “sand” and little pebbles/shells with the Fineline masking fluid. I find this incredibly relaxing while listening to some good music. It is like knitting or embroidery.

Masking fluid on paper

This is pretty much the finished masking job. A good time to step back to see if anything more is needed and if it all kinda flows and balances.

Masking fluid on paper

I don’t clean my palette too often. I have little dabs of the colors that I use all the time in little dabs then in the larger wells, I have the background colors that I tend to use a lot of.

To get ready for starting to paint this one, I have to wet the palette and have a few colors that are ready to go for big washes. I mix all the colors ON the paper, not on the palette.

To get them ready, I have found one of these needleless syringes from Amazon works wonders. I just suck up the clean water and inject it into the well. I let it soften the pigment for a few minutes then…

Ready to rock and roll.

Paint on palette

I keep a piece of watercolor paper under my palette – a good use for a reject painting – to test colors and to sort of plan out what color to use next.

I just bought this lovely, wonderful cobalt green pale and want to use it in the background with an ochre like burgundy yellow ochre.

Lovely, no? I love trying out a new color.

Daniel Smith Cobalt green pale test

I am thinking this is going to be the perfect background color to set off the blues and violets that I plan to use for the shell. It granulates and seems to be just the right shade of sea green.

Daniel Smith Cobalt Green Pale tube

Before painting in the background, I take a large brush and get the whole area wet. Then I wet it again. I want it to be soaking. This helps the colors run and puddle together.

Here I start floating in the cobalt green and… well… it is awful. Just awful. Much as I love Daniel Smith, some of their colors are like painting with Play Doh. The paints are just not the right consistency and they clump and don’t spread… My opinion – save your money and don’t buy this pigment.

Daniel Smith Cobalt Green Pale wash

OK. Well, quick change of plans. I am going to leave the cobalt green on there but … not use any more of it.

This is undersea green, cerulean and burgundy yellow ochre. You can tell by the puddles how much color I am putting on there. Undersea green is a truly ugly color – BUT – it mixes beautifully with Cerulean Blue and when salt is sprinkled on top, it granulates out into its mix of Ultramarine Blue and Quin. Gold.

Watercolor on paper

I place this off to the side and throw some salt on it while it is drying. The salt can add texture.

Here it is dry. You can see how the salt pulled the pigments around. This is most pronounced with undersea green.

Watercolor in progress

Here you can see how the salt has added texture and an effect that you really can’t get any other way.

Watercolor in progress

OK, this may be crazy but I usually set paintings up on a bookcase behind my worktable and try to give them a bit of a critical eye before continuing.

With this one, the background seems a little pale, washed out and … blah…particularly the area on the right and a bit on the lower left but it is that right side that is bothering me. I think, why not? And wet the area again, using more undersea green and cerulean then throwing more salt on it. There’s no law against a “do over” in watercolor. Took me a long time to realize that…

I think I made it better!

Watercolor in progress

I am still getting the distortions from the salt but now more than ever.

I just love this sort of accidental effect and get really excited to see what is going to happen when the whole thing dries.

Watercolor in progress

Now, time to remove the mask from the pebbles and sea foam but also to check that the masking for the big shell works as I am going to tackle that next.

Watercolor in progress

With the mask off, I love how you can see how the pigments have settled. To me, this is the joy of mixing pigments on the page instead of on the palette. You can get these areas where the colors have run together or separated.

Watercolor in progress

Yes, I really am going to paint in a little color on each of those little pebbles and shell fragments in the sand…

Watercolor in progress

Rocks are starting to get painted in…

Watercolor in progress

Yes, I confess, sometimes I get a little bored with an area and start on another before the first is finished or I want to step back… It is not always an orderly progression. I do the first wash on the shell before finishing the rocks… So shoot me.

Watercolor in progress

Second wash, a little more color. I am just winging it with the colors. I know I want some green a lot of violet and a little blue. And some rusty brown like Sienna or Tiger’s Eye usually works. Check my Supplies page for more information on the colors I use.

Watercolor in progress

By the way, Daniel Smith Tiger’s Eye is a really ugly, dull brown. Not a red brown or a golden brown but just a dull, dirt brown but when you mix it? Or in the right place? It is just magic.

I was so disappointed when I first tried it but then I realized the potential it had and now I use it in pretty much every painting.

Daniel Smith Tiger's eye tube

Little by little I am adding pigment inside the shell. Waiting for it to come together. Or should that be hoping for it to come together?

Watercolor in progress

Painting iridescence and the colors inside of a shell can seem impossible at times but sometimes putting greens next to violet or bright blue can give that effect.

Here, I have tried a little Daniel Smith Iridescent Electric Blue – just a touch of it is enough!

Daniel Smith Iridescent Electric Blue tube

Adding more color and shadow… And removing the masking fluid…

Watercolor in progress

Now I am starting to hate this and think I have gone to far. Time for the sponge…

Using a sponge to lighten color

A sea sponge or a q-tip can be great to pick up just a little color or smooth out an area. Some people suggest using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser but I have not really been happy with the results of that so far.

Watercolor in progress

OK, I am going to stop here and call it finished!


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