Seaton Beach – The Magic Of That First Wash

Rex Beanland, Seaton Beach, watercolour, 12 x 16,

Seaton Beach, watercolour, 12 x 16











I’m very excited by this painting.  It’s from our trip to England about 3 years ago.  It’s the sea front in a little town called Seaton on the south coast.

Lately, I’ve been very conscious of the beauty and magic of the first wash in watercolour. The first wash begins with the first touch of water and pigment to the paper and doesn’t end until it is finally left to dry.  For years I lacked both the confidence and technical ability to get very creative with that first wash.  I would mix a colour in the palette and apply it to the paper and let it dry, planning to then come in with further washes.   The problem with watercolour is that as soon as you put another layer of paint on top of a dry wash you lose some of the glow.  In watercolour that  freshness and glow that it is famous for  comes from light passing through the pigment to the paper and then reflecting back to the eye.  So it’s sensible that with 2 or more washes for the light to pass through the light that bounces back has lost some of that glow.   The goal therefore is to try to get as much accomplished as possible in that first wash.  When you apply the first wash of colour it’s very beneficial to ask yourself ‘What else can I do’.

The reason that I talking about this and the reason that this painting excites me is that it was a true success story in terms of that first wash.  For the sky I started with a very pale yellow ochre wash and then started adding some light washes of blue.  Then while this was still very wet I added the dark clouds which blended beautifully.  Then with the paper still wet I added the land in the background, gradually getting stronger and thicker mixtures of pigment.  Then after waiting a couple of minutes but with the paper still wet I added a few darker accents along the top of the hill and along the shoreline.  I just kept playing with it until I was happy with it.  Then and only then I let it dry completely.  So after 15 minutes the top half of the painting was pretty much done.  When it was dry I did add the darker accents that you can see have the hard edges.  Adding these darker shapes does make that first wash, visible beneath them, truly glow.

The bottom half of the painting was accomplished in a similar manner beginning with a very pale yellow ochre / cad orange wash and then building up the darker values.  Final touches including the tree shape on the right and the shadow side of the wall were added to dry paper.

So I’m feeling quite evangelistic about working with that first wash and seeing how far I can push it.  You often hear that if you allow watercolour to do it’s thing it will paint itself.  One thing this means is that when you get creative with that first wash magic things happen.

If you are interested in learning more about this you will want to join me for my 2 day workshop March 23/24 at the Leighton Centre.  This is an important component of what I will be teaching at the workshop.  You can get information and register for this workshop from the Leighton Centre website.


2 thoughts on “Seaton Beach – The Magic Of That First Wash

    1. Rex Beanland Post author

      Hi Robert: Thanks for your inquiry. That painting actually won First Prize in a Gallery Show and sold at the same time. Rex


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