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I follow a site titled Big Sur Kate. Late last summer she posted the above photograph.  I commented on all the beautiful color and that it was so surreal and different.  I have followed her photography because I saw, early on, that she incorporated a knack for great and interesting composition in her work. She was kind enough to offer this image for me to work from. Little did I realise how difficult it would be for me to reproduce in watercolor. The following are my attempts to paint this beautiful seascape.

          Cartiera Magnani 140lb coldpress

This is my first attempt. I didn’t like all the hard edges and did not feel I had enough definition in the clouds. I liked the brightness it captured but the darks were not deep enough and I couldn’t get the sea darker without disturbing the first layer of pigment.

Arches 140lb coldpress

This was my second attempt. I liked this much better but felt it lacked shape in the clouds.I liked the darks and the variation of color that was achieved, here.

Cartiera Magnani 140lb coldpress

This one approached the bright light I wanted in the upper portion of the sky and I liked the shapes in the sea but was still dissatified with the shapes I was achieving in the clouds.

Winsor Newton 140lb coldpress

I really liked the shapes that I achieved in this one but not the range of values. I wanted deeper darks and WHOOPS! Happy accident at the bottom; swampgrass? lol

  Arches 140lb coldpress

I was getting closer to the color I wanted.I liked the somewhat v shape of the underside of the clouds I got in this one and how it defined the streaks of reflected light on the water. It was here that I decided to change my approach and paint shapes in sections to define the clouds I wanted to achieve. I also decided I wanted to go with the essence of this v shape to create the next one.

Fabriano 140lb coldpress

This was my final attempt and I am pleased with it. The Fabriano coldpress allowed me to play in the pigment a little more. It would allow me to lift hard edges and re-design an area.  It also offered a surface that I could lay down abstract shapes with ease. I also pulled out the titanium white and enhanced portions of the clouds to gray out some areas and brighten the whites of the clouds on the top.

This entire venture made me appreciate the art of photography much more than I ever have. There are just some things that are captured with a camera that we would not have if  we had to paint it FAST! before it disappeared.  Thank-you, Kate, for sharing your art with me so I could learn valuable lessons here.

Oh. Some time ago, Isabelle challenged me to do a beach scene. Would this seascape qualify Isabelle? I didn’t forget. 🙂



  1. Fantastic! I LOVE clouds: photos, paintings, the real thing, candy-floss, songs about them. So in my element looking at all of these – all so different considering they’re of the same scene – which I like – so pleased you decided to show us your progress.

    Alas, I find clouds the hardest thing to paint. Ever.

    Love how you painted the sea in the first one. The last one is the overall best.

    • Thank-you, June. I remember a post where you created creatures and had a pile of your attempts photographed on a chair. I decided to share my attempts on this one. I agree. Clouds are something we usually paint to back some other feature in the composition. I rarely pay much attention other than to get the essence of it down. When the sky and the water become the subject, it’s a whole other ballgame!

  2. Another great study. Thank you for sharing your process and thoughts. So fascinating. Stop by for Kitty Tales.

  3. These are wonderful studies, Leslie! I like the first one best of all – it is the most spontaneous IMO. I also like the second for geometry of the clouds and the last one, which is the most accomplished.

    What is the size of these?

    Never heard of Cartiera Magnani paper. Do you like it? What is it like?

    • They are small. The last one is the largest at 8″x18″. The first one is the smallest at 4.5″x13.5″ I agree that the first one is the most spontaneous. I actually liked the second one a lot when I did it, but the one that holds my attention and makes me look at it longer is the last one. It’s weird. The picture of it doesn’t do it justice. Up close it looks like how it is posted, but from across the room I can see what I wanted and it becomes more than I thought I could do. I think that has to do with shapes and value. Cartiera Magnani is a nice paper for brightness. Doesn’t take a lot of layering as you can lift on it very easily and the more you do that, the more you lose the brightness that you had. But it is my second favorite paper. Thanks Alex!

  4. When I opened up this page, I had to gasp!! That top one is so beautiful and dramatic!! My favorites are the first and last. Beautiful work, Leslie!!

    • Thank-you, Beth. I adopted your plan of trying the same thing in multiples. 🙂

  5. Wow. These are JUST gorgeous. I love pictures of clouds, they are beautiful, and when I grow up and buy a house, I want pictures of clouds on the walls. 😀 Thank you for posting these! They totally capture the sunset look. It reminds me of during the summers, when I was little, after dinner, I used to go outside and look and. There they were. The beautiful evening clouds.

    • What a beautiful comment, Tacy. Thank-you. Maybe you could try some cloud drawings or paintings for your room, now? I’ll bet you could do it during some free time! I like cloud watching also. 🙂

  6. Wooow.The sea and the clouds.These days i just thinked at this and i’m glad to admire your paintings.It’s like i’m there in this moment…sitting on the sand and looking at the sea-gull how it flys on the blue sky.
    Thank you for share it with us,Leslie 🙂

    Have a great day!!

    • Thank-you, Alina. Sea gulls. Good idea! I liked that post you did of the weird statues today!

  7. You did well.
    i’ve always prefered acrylic because you can use it agressively.
    Watercolours are lot more delicate in my opinion.
    i think you nailed it though.

    • Acrylic probably would have been good for this. Would have been able to build up the color dark to light. Watercolor is my favorite and I’m constantly looking for challenges and ways to improve. Thankyou for your undieing support. You know I appreciate it.

  8. I love the first attempt honestly but each and everyone is beautiful….

    • I am liking it that so many have said they like the first one. Maybe it’s the bright light radiating from the center? Thank-you Souldose.

  9. Leslie … little did I know how much work I would create for you … but even more, the creativity I would see from one photograph. You are just amazing, as is your work. Each time I come here, I learn more about light, shapes, and interplay. You are just so good about explaining how you came to the final solution, and what steps you took to get there. I wish I could do that. I will continue to learn from you across the miles, through this wonderful communication media we call the internet. I’ve been on it now for 20 years, and the changes have been phenomenal!

    • Thank-you, Kate. I feel you do the same thing on your blog. I like the variety and the ability to learn about a place so foreign to where I live. Your photography is what caught me. Your composition and the fact that the pictures you take look real. Thank-you for the opportunity to paint your seascape.

  10. I clicked on your site and WOW! I was so happy to see SO MANY paintings of clouds. Each one different, all of them beautiful. I had such a hard time figuring out how to paint the sky in my Big Florida Sky painting and in the St. Croix sketches. You have achieved a number of dramatic images here.

    I think I like the first one the best. I’m sure if you want to, you could go back with clean water and try and soften the edges, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

    The other thing that struck me was how many different papers you have. That’s amazing. Is there one that’s a particular favorite? I usually only use the Arches, so I’m not familiar with how the others handle the paint.

    • First of all, thank-you. I did this exercise partly because of the same thing you say, how do you do a sky? For me, they’ve always been swishes and color to back up whatever else I’m painting. When the sky becomes the subject, I just found out it isn’t so easy. My favorite paper for everything is Arches 140lb. I like the Cartiera Magnani for the brightness and it has become my second favorite. Everything on it looks that much brighter, but I can’t achieve a lot of layering with it. Thus, if I try to lift out those hard lines in the first one, I lift everything I touch because the pigment moves around on the paper.If you try to layer more on it, you move what is underneath and lose some of the brightness. I like the first one, too, for the light in the center. Fabriano coldpress is nice for lifting pigment and you can layer on it but your brushstrokes show and you inevitably move the underpaint with the next layer and I find it excellent for a more abstract look. So, if you want to do any layering, Arches is still my choice.

  11. Great to see your work on clouds. You have a lot of patience to do the study. A quality I am in such a shortage of. I have never done paintings that are exclusively skyscapes. But then there are so much possibilities even from one picture. Maybe I might try my hand on this one day when I get the right moment.

    • Thank-you, Raji. I did these over a period of 6 to 8 weeks.I’d do one and then work on something else. It was a challenge to make the sky the subject.

  12. And at least a photo gives you the luxury of time to experiment until you get the effect you want. Like you I like something about all of these studies though unlike you I like the hard edges in the first one, and the light. But your final version does have a sense of movement which i like and which gives it an added dimension, I think.

    • This is so interesting. A lot of people like the first one. Thank-you, Sarah.

  13. Good idea! I will see if they look good in my current room. 😀

  14. Leslie–wow, a lot of lovely efforts to capture the image in a wonderful photo. I noted that you switeched materials along the way-especially the papers. Photography does indeed allow for a FAST capture of everchanging LIGHT and how it moves/falls/evolves–even when objects/shapes remains stationary. I enjoyed all of your efforts–and the Photo as well. Thank you for sharing every step.

    • This was totally going somewhere I had not ventured before, Eva. Skies and clouds always backed other things up. Thank-you for the comment.

  15. that takes remarkable control and talent – these clouds are stunningly done – real yet unreal too – have you ever done landscapes from life? I keep thinking of those impressionists clamoring over rocks and doggedly climbing hills to find the perfect natural scene…

  16. WOW! Beautiful! Do more, do more 🙂

  17. I love how loose the clouds are… its amazing… but of course everything you put up is amazing… but the clouds are so loose but still together… i really like these studies!!!

  18. Hi Leslie,
    These are just great! Every one of them.

    I love this process where you take one image and try it over and over again, trying to achieve your visual purpose – which isn’t photographic realism.
    I think if you put these all away for a while, you will have a hard time choosing which one was the most successful. Each one bespeaks a different purpose as you refine your desired outcome.
    I often put a painting away that I was mightily frustrated with at the time of its creation, but afterward when that sensation of painterly frustration is gone, I sometimes wonder how I got that painterly freedom, or that beautiful play of warm and cool without getting the colours dirty.
    BTW, your paintings are amazing on that front alone. Every one of them, the colours look sparklingly fresh.

    On one of them with the hard edges, you might try using a brush wetted with clear water. Just run it along the edge of the place you want to soften and then see what happens. Don’t use much water.
    Or, this is something that my sister does, often to great effect and definitely it saves a painting often if she has to lighten something or maybe even change the colour. She uses a scrubber – it’s a small brush with a compact sponge like tip – not a bristle brush at all. She wets the area first with clear water, then comes back and scrubs the paint off. You can use a tissue to help lift of loosened paint, too.
    You might just try this on paintings you don’t like anymore and are ready to trash, before you tackle these perfect ones above.
    But over all, I’m very impressed with these. There’s such a lovely liberty in both your brushwork and your drawing.

    • Thank-you, Lookingforbeauty. I did try the lifting on that top one on Cartiera Magnani. I was afraid to go on because I was smudging it. Need to work on my lifting technique. lol
      I agree with you. I save most of my paintings and about a year later go through them and “cull”? them. Some of the ones I absolutely could not stand are beautiful after all that time. I have also noticed that the artists that I blog with, all of you dear friends!, jump on and like the ones that are a little different and a little more quirky. At least that’s what my stats page tells me. I think that there is truth in that. I have not scrubbed in a watercolor, as yet, except when I tone paper for another technique I do with charcoal and watercolor. I need to do some more of those things and venture into the world of abstract someday. Thank-you for your comments. They are appreciated! 🙂

  19. This takes my breath away ! You are a true inspiration ! I love the hard edges of the first one, and I also love the last one! You are so talented! And yes, this qualifies as a beach scene! This makes me to want to paint more and more and more… Thank you !

    • Thanks, Isabelle. 🙂 Everybody is liking that first one! I’m so glad it qualifies as a beach scene. lol I couldn’t help but include saying something about that because you asked me where I lived that I didn’t have access to one. Thank-you for challenging me because I never forgot it and that is how I learn.

  20. These are all brilliant Leslie. I really admire your tenacity in trying it out on various types of paper to see what works best for you. I have set myself the task of trying to paint a landscape for the first time. I’m not sure when I’ll get it done but it is on my list to go in my little journal.

    • Thank-you, Heather. You know I think you would do great with landscape.I believe that a knack for the abstract helps, immensely, when painting landscapes. I will look forward to seeing what you create.

  21. Thanks for sharing this process with us, and allowing us to “enter the artist’s studio!” You have me intrigued now to try out Fabriano. I have only used D’Arches. Do you work back and forth between these, or have a favorite? I love the way you managed those rich complementary colors. I still have trouble keeping them apart–either I don’t allow them to dry sufficiently, or I allow one to go over the top of the other after its dry and I disrupt it somehow. These colors are very vibrant. I know you worked from a photo, but it looks like plein air work. Thank you.

    • Fabriano must have less sizing. You can lift off of it much easier. Yes you can layer but you will have evidence of brushstrokes in your work (note the sea in the fabriano painting. It has streaks even though I rewet the area I wanted to paint into. I used a flat brush,first, and it looked awful and blocky, so I finished it with a round to look somewhat Arches is my versatile favorite. It can take a beating but I like trying new things so I’m one to shake it up. I teach, as you do, and I’m constantly trying new things because my students aren’t all the same. Sometimes another paper works better for what they are trying to do. Fabriano rough is a fun trip, David. You might have some fun with that! It lends itself well to a piece where you may have an open range with abstract shapes and lots of texture. Not much sizing so things come out a little more abstract. I start all my beginners out with arches. It is easier to teach technique on.
      The complementary colors in the water: I painted a wash of burnt sienna, first, allowed it to dry, and then went back in and wet each stripe, individually. I kind of tried to work the adjacent stripe next to the one on its’ left while it was still wet. I would have had the same problem as you had the whole area been wet. Thanks for these questions and your comment!

  22. Leslie, your project engendered so many thoughts and ideas from your readers. Such a delight to read all of the comments from you and your readers regarding process, style, and color. I am incorporating some of this into my photography. And I agree about revisiting these. I do that with my photos and find some I did not like, at first.

    Right now, I am working with white balance. It is amazing how much it changes a photograph.

    Bravo, Leslie!! A big undertaking that created so much and varied beauty. I like all of them! But I still think the last one is my favorite.

    • I just was bowled over by all the different takes on these. I don’teven know what white balance is so I guess I’llhave to google that. I saw your recent sunset and it’s beautiful!

  23. Leaping into abstract?
    I think of it as getting adventurous and letting the paint instruct me and direct me as much as I direct and instruct it.
    Go ahead! Go get adventurous.

  24. I think i have the same frequency as you in this few days, I’m actually trying to paint clouds too but fail terribly on first attempt. Your clouds gave me lots of inspiration. Will post mine after this weekend. Personally i like all of them, i think each of them shows different characteristic of clouds. Nicely done.

    • Don’t you think every artist stops to examine the parts of landscapes they normally just swish in with their brush? I find it very challenging attempting to render clouds, open fields, and large bodies of water, effectively, when they are the primary subject of the painting. I can hardly wait to see your clouds, Francis. Happy painting! 🙂 …and , yes, we must be on the same wavelength! Thank-you for the comment.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Serendipity « BigSurKate on 21 Mar 2010 at 3:12 pm

    […] Leslie, the artist, is the consummate teacher – both in the classroom and on the internet. She did 6 different versions of this photograph over the course of 6-8 weeks, explaining her process along the way. She has posted them all to her blog, and has received an incredible number of responses. She considers this a “joint” process, and maybe it is. If you are at all interested in the creative process, its explanations, others views of the process, then see all six versions of the paintings she did from one photograph Sea and Sky here. […]

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