Yes, another sea shell

Yes, I have painted another sea shell. I used to paint a lot of trees but that was really just a way to play with color, shadow, composition and mood.

So now it is shells. Each time, I think of something to paint that I have no idea how to do. I don’t always pull it off but I learn. And learn. And get better and bolder.

Painting is a journey, not a destination and all that.

Anyway, I was walking on the beach and looking at the tide going out, leaving a stream away from each shell or rock. I wanted to get that idea of the depression left around the object and the streams of water and foam.

I went on my favorite site for nature photos which are usually copyright free and found this –

Reference photo

I love the subtle violets with the splash of orange. I sketched out the basic design.

pencil on paper

Then got out the trusty Fineline Masking Fluid to mask the shell and start with the pebbles and sea foam.

Masking fluid on paper

There are no tricks or shortcuts with the foam. It is just doodling. Every once in awhile, I step back to check the composition and flow. I have drawn the streams too evenly and alike and it looks funny so I improvise a bit and end up with this.

Watercolor in progress

I recently bought this big, cheap mop brush and it is perfect for getting the paper very wet so that I can float in a background.

Mop brush

I wanted to add a light, tea stain type of background wash first with mostly ochre and Davy’s Gray.

Pale wash on watercolor paper

Note the little arrow I put in the margin to remind me of the light source directions – it keeps me from getting lost when I do the shadow.

After this wash dried, I added more Fineline mask “dots” for sand/texture.

When those dried (I get to take lots of breaks!), time for the real background wash. I threw everything in here – Terre Verte, Undersea Green, French Ochre, Amethyst and Goethite, just dropping in the colors until I liked the way it looked. Then I threw Morton’s Salt on it – maybe too much in that upper left!

Watercolor in progress

Notice how the watercolor granulates and the salt pulls the pigments around. I never quite know how it will turn out. As a kid, I was fascinated by “marbled paper” and still have a few books on how to do it. This reminds me a little of how that works.

Taking off the mask… Even with a rubber cement pickup, sometimes the mask gets gummy and hard to pull up but with a little work, it comes up. I have also found that if you leave it on for more than a few weeks, it can become really difficult to get off. This is actually good for me as it prods me to get back and finish a painting.

Removing the Fineline Masking Fluid

I threw way too much salt, perhaps on this. Two ways I have found to get it up are an old toothbrush or a credit card of some type.

using a toothbrush to remove salt

After the mask and salt are off, I go over the whole thing lightly with a damp brush to soften up those harsh masking lines a bit. The change is very subtle but it is there.

After the masking fluid is removed

I masked in a few lines inside the shell and started – tentatively – painting it in. There’s a weird color I like to use sometimes, Daniel Smith Hematite Violet. It’s a wonderful almost non-color color but it can tone down or shadow another color. Here, maybe because it dried up on my palette, it clumped a bit, but I like how that looks.

Watercolor in progress

I am actually always almost terrified to start painting something like a sea shell. I never know how I will do it. I can plan some colors in my head but how to pull off the painting? Not a clue. That’s why I do this. I learn every time.

A little more Hematite Violet, some Transparent Yellow Oxide, a bit of my favorite Transparent Red Oxide… I also have a teeny bit of my favorite Terre Verte to pick up the green of the sand/water.

Watercolor in progress

Leaving this for the time being, I started painting in the surrounding shells and pebbles and putting a little color inside the shell – that’s the scariest part!

Watercolor in progress

Painting more of the shell and thinking I have totally messed this up…

Watercolor in progress

Sometimes you have to step back and look at it all again… I think I have fixed it a little. That little inside curl of the shell is giving me a work out…

Watercolor in progress

More shadowing under the shell needs doing. And maybe around more of the rocks. I am using Neutral Tint and Rare Green Earth. On a Facebook group I am on, someone got a bit snotty with me accusing me of being a shill for Daniel Smith. The fact is that when I tried my first tube, the way I painted completely changed. It just works for me. It is probably not the best paint out there but it just works for me. They don’t pay me to say that. I wish they would. I will get pennies or something if you buy through the Amazon links but if you don’t, I will still use Daniel Smith paints.

Watercolor in progress

More color, more shadow. Note, I don’t like “hard shadows”, I know they exist in the real world but this is an image in my head, not the real world – this is my fantasy world.

I painted in oils before watercolors and there is a technique in oils called “scrumbling” where you rub the color in so that there are no hard lines. I do something similar to that with these shadows. This also keeps you from having a hard edge and gives you more of a fuzzy patch of color.

Watercolor in progress

I think this is about as good as it is going to get so I go over it and soften the lines and edges with a well worn brush.

Watercolor in progress
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  1. I love your style of painting. I am trying to branch out and create my own style, but it’s hard. It’s like I don’t yet know what I want to be when I grow up. ( secret – I’m over 70)

    • Just keep painting but don’t copy anyone else. Your style will come. And it may change over time but if you stay doing what you want to do… well then… nothing is lost, right? 🙂 Plus, it should be fun, not a chore!

  2. I’m stupefied by your shell painting! It’s so amazing! Your honesty process reporting is brilliant too. I followed every word, every step. Thank you. I will follow your blogs. I am an art therapist and newer to watercolors . And enjoying it all

  3. I’m addicted! Written directions like yours are perfect for me! I need to reread directions constantly but your photos help me to understand! This really is phenomenal!

    • Thanks so much. My painting is so erratic and start and stop, I could never do a video – plus, I have a hard time following them myself. I didn’t know if my oddball “style” would work for others but… I guess I am not the only one 🙂

  4. This is quite brilliant! You have done an amazing job and love that you share your process with such honesty👍🤗. I, too, love Daniel smith paints and appreciate your sharing your color choices etc. thank you and I will be following your blog!

  5. This is so beautiful. I love your commtary is so honest! I love that you mentioned fear because as I was going through the blog I thought ” id be so scared to do that shell” and then you said it! Im gonna be brave an attempt something similar as I feel inspired by this painting and that foam!! SPECTACULAR! Thank you

    • thank you. I start almost every painting, thinking “I have no idea how I am going to do this!” but I try. And a lot of the time I fail. But I do it to learn. And have fun with it. It’s only paper in the end so you might get a work or art or you might get some good scratch paper. What’s to lose?

      • I am blown away by this painting. You’re an amazing artist and instructor. Thank you for opening my eyes to so much more watercolor possibilities.

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