The Making of 'Lapping Waters'

16 November, 2020 2 comments Leave a comment

Lapping Waters, varnished watercolour on panel by Karen Richardson

Shown above is Lapping Waters, watercolour 16 x 20". I painted this scene as a demonstration for a 3-day advanced level workshop I taught in my studio in November 2019. I took some photos during class so I could show you the strategies and steps involved in making this painting.

Beach at Neys Provincial Park photo by Karen Richardson

The photo above is one I took on the beach at Ney's Provincial Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior near Marathon, Ontario and was the reference we used for the painting. I gave my students the option of bringing their own photos of driftwood to make their paintings unique.

As is my usual habit, I used just three tubes of paint to mix all the colours I needed for this scene. I don't always use the same primary colours but in this case I used Antwerp Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and New Gamboge (all by Winsor & Newton) because this brand is easiest for my students to obtain locally.

Because watercolour dries very quickly, I have a small window of time to apply paint before it starts to dry. Since it is easier to paint a small section in 30 seconds than it is to paint a large section in 30 seconds, it is helpful if a scene has distinct sections that can be worked on individually. Conveniently, this scene divides naturally into several horizontal sections and my strategy was to work on one section at a time, starting at the top and working downward. (Sky, deep water, surf, calm water, sand.) 

Lapping Waters layout sketch by Karen Richardson

DAY 1 (plan, sketch, begin painting background)

To begin, I sketched a simple contour drawing on graph paper (shown above). This establishes the horizon, the edges of each section of the scene, the shapes of the foam, and the outer shape of the driftwood.

When completed, I traced this sketch using graphite transfer paper onto a 17" by 21" piece of 300 lb Arches cold press bright white watercolour paper. The finished size of the painting would be 16" by 20".

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) I wet the sky area and painted the upper blue section and then the purple mist section, being careful to leave some of the mist area white in between the colours.

On dry paper, using a paint brush and a water brush, I painted in the darkest shapes of the waves using a golden brown mixture, softening the edges with clear water as I went along. (This is the complementary colour to the blue water, so will read as a dark blue gray once the transparent blue layer goes over top.)

While that area dried, I used liquid masking fluid (my favourite type is Pebeo Drawing Gum which is pale blue) to protect the white highlights of the surf. This is a temporary coating that preserves the white of the paper and allows me to paint around the protected area quickly and evenly. The close-up photo below shows the blue masking fluid in the surf section.

Detail of surf by Karen Richardson

When the masking was dry, I painted gray on top to represent the shadows in the surf. When that paint was dry, I rubbed off the masking fluid with a crepe eraser, revealing white bits of the foam nestled in gray shadows. I added pale blue shadows to the lower edges of the white bits to give them dimension.

DAY 2 (completing hill and lake sections, beginning the sand)

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) I mixed a dark gray and painted in a hint of the far hill peeking above the mist. I also added a few purple shadows in the mist to give it some form.

I wet the deep section of the lake with clear water and painted blue and dark blue onto the lake surface. I lifted colour here and there, using a clean damp brush, to look like sunlight on the swells in the water.

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress detail, by Karen Richardson

(Shown above in detail) Using mixtures of green and blue green, I painted in the near headland. Then I touched a wet water brush to the painted areas, leaving soft blooms in the paint that looked like sunlit tree masses. When the greens were dry, I added some tidbits of tan colour to the shoreline to represent the rocky shore.

While that area dried, I applied liquid masking fluid to protect the white surf and driftwood.

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) I wet the middle section (the calm water closest to the beach) with clear water and painted in three colours: pale gray under the far surf, tan across the middle, and darker brown along the leading edge of the wave. These colours had to be applied quickly so they could have equal moisture levels that would dry evenly, with no back runs.

Then I wet the front section (the sand) with clear water and painted on the same three colours I used in the middle section, trying to imitate the placement of the colours according to the reference photo. The pale gray went next to the wave, the tan across the middle, and the darker brown in several areas.

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) Once the paint was fully dry, I re-wet the sand with clear water and painted on a second layer of the same paint mixtures, in the same areas as before, to deepen the colours.

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown in detail above) When the sand area was dry, I added the cast shadows below the foam to give it dimension. After that dried, I rubbed off the masking fluid and painted pale gray shadows within the foam, using the reference photo to get the shapes right.

DAY 3 (completing the sand and driftwood)

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) I painted the first layer of shadows and texture in the driftwood using a mixture of grays and browns. (Shown in detail below.)

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson


Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) After the first layer of paint dried, I added more layers of colour and shadow to the driftwood, paying careful attention to my reference photo.

Lapping Waters, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

(Shown above) After the driftwood was fully dry, I painted the shadows cast on the sand. I was careful to make these graded washes rather than flat washes, to imitate how light reflects back into shadowed areas.

Lapping Waters, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Shown above is my finished demonstration painting.

Students with driftwood beach paintings, workshop taught by Karen Richardson

My students were accomplished watercolour painters who worked diligently to recreate this complex scene, and the results are shown above. Each one is a unique interpretation, beautifully done.

My finished painting, titled Lapping Waters, was mounted on a 16 x 20" archival wood panel, then varnished and presented in a black wood floater frame. There is no glass to get in the way of enjoying the details of this scene. I think it successfully represents the stark beauty and warm light of this special place.

For more information about Lapping Waters, click here.

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  1. Melanie November 17, 2020

    Karen your artwork is amazing! Do you plan on doing any online courses at some point? I live in the Yukon and would dearly love to take one of your workshops. Unfortunately the chances of traveling to Ontario in the near future is highly unlikely!

  2. Judith Madsen November 17, 2020

    Hello Karen, Judith from gabriola island bc. That is a wonderful painting and description of how you painted it with three colours! And your students equally should be proud. It’s magical and nicer than the real life photo.
    Loved reading this. Thank you.