Tuesday 17 October 2023

advice on painting boats on location

Painting boats on the north coast of Spain

Painting boats, their reflections and their beautiful surrounding is one of the most romantic themes for watercolourists and a very popular subject. Boat paintings in all media have a very long history, and they conjure up feelings of adventure, travel, hard work and discovery of new places.

Sketching them on location is just magical, because for sure you’re going to be in an interesting place - either somewhere surrounded by water, nature, birds and wonderful light, or in a harbour full of the bustle of boating people and fisher-folk.

While I was painting boats the other day, and taking step-by-step photos to make a tutorial for you, I was thinking a bit about how tricky it is to paint boats on location and some advice I would give to people who hadn’t done it before. So here are a few tips for you, if you plan on heading out.

  • If It’s your first time out, go at low tide and sketch the boats that have beached, or visit a harbour where the boats are tightly moored. Floating boats move a lot and the tide can move surprisingly fast when you’re quietly sketching and not at all aware of the time. Beached boats, and those tightly moored, will be a good first step to become familiar with drawing boats in general
  • Talking of the tides, it’s good to look at a tide table and know whether the tide is going in or out. Then before you set up, spot the tideline and make sure you’re not going to suddenly swamped by an incoming wave when you’re in your painting zone and looking the other way. It’s happened to me, more than once - but then maybe I’m a slow learner ;-)
  • Once you’ve got a number of lovely beached and tightly moored boats to sketch, then sketch them a lot. Really study how boats are shaped, what the shape of a hull looks like from the side, front, back and when seen from different heights. Then study the shape of the inside from all angles too. This kind of study is invaluable! You’ll really need to know the general form of boats before you start sketching them when they’re floating and moving.
  • So now you’re ready to head out at high tide. Yay! This is so much fun, because now you’ll have reflections too. You know how boats are shaped, so you can play a memory game - watch a boat you want to sketch for a long time and pick how you want to place it on your page, then draw it’s position from memory. This kind of observation and drawing from memory skill is wonderful to have and will transfer so well to drawing other subjects as well.
  • Talking of reflections. These are going to very affected by the weather and the wind. So a good study of them is essential too. Remember that the reflection is usually a darker value than what it is reflecting, so I find it handy to paint the water first right over the reflection area, then add the reflection later, so that the reflection has a darkish undertone.
  • Also on reflections. You’ll see this in the full lessons on painting boats that I’ve already shared, but I find it easiest to paint the hull of the boat at the same time as it’s reflection, letting the two merge into each other. This means I get the colour essentially the same, and I avoid a hard line or even a white gap between the boat and its reflection. This gap can make the boat look like it’s above the water, when in fact it goes right into the water.
  • And talking of water. Look really carefully at the colours in the water - it’s a reflection of the sky (so it is affected by the weather), and all of the surroundings, so normally isn’t just blue.
  • Final little tips. Just the usual - sunhat, sunnies (I normally don’t recommend painting with sunnies on, because of how it affects your colour choices, but light reflecting off water can be bad for your eyes, so in this case I’d keep mine on), insect repellant (mozzies at estuaries! Yikes!), and a camera for taking lots and lots of reference photos.
  • Final, final tips - don’t forget about the boat painting tutorials I have already done, they’re the perfect place to start before you head out.

Happy painting!

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