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Pastel Painting Technique: Capturing the Sandy Beach

Time to start reminiscing about summer as the cold, dark days of winter emerge.

My current project in "Bay Boats," inspired by the scene below of the bayside at Breezy Point, New York. Although the colorful boats captured my initial attention, the "designs" in the sand (from tire tracks and the dragging of the boats) as they point toward the lighthouse on the horizon were also quite interesting.

Here's the reference photo I will be working from:

In observing sand dunes, a variety of grey, purple, blue, light ochre and yellow shades create random patterns in the sand. As can be seen in the painting below, "Breezy Point Dunes," the blue and purple shady areas as well as the tire tracks caught my attention. Also, certain peaks in the sand catch the warm sunlight, creating bright highlights in the shady zones.

In the painting below, various divots in the sand are enhanced by a ring of light value sand capturing the sunlight and contrasting against the shadier portions. The "ring of light" gets warmer as the day progresses, almost to an orange glow by five in the afternoon. Shadows have a way of "dancing" across the sandy road. This view can be seen at Breezy Point, New York, across from Marion Walk on the way toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The variety of textures of the beach can be conveyed with a short range of values blotted on the canvas and then smoothed using a tortillion. In this example from Bay Boats, I use a tortillion to smooth the darker spots (divots) of the sand, avoiding blending to convey the distinction between the different planes of the sand.

In "A Long Walk To The Jetty," the flatness of the beach and its distance from the viewer eliminates the texture of the sand, which is conveyed in darker values due to the moisture from the surf.

In the painting below, the smooth grey surface of the beach also picks up a mirror look as you close in on the surf, from the thin film of water reflecting the light.

Here's the current work-in-progress version of "Bay Boats:"

And just so that we do justice to the upcoming Winter season, a snowscape has many of the same characteristics as a sandy beach surface. The cooler blues and whiter whites of snow distinguish this landscape from the sandy surfaces of the Atlantic coastline, but the ruts and divots and the interplay of light across the bumpy surface are similar to the sand dunes.

So on to "Bay Boats" and the colorful water craft placed along the sandy beach. Look for an update on my new painting in the near future.

Hope to see some of my fellow Chicago pastel artists at the reception for the Chicago Pastel Painters National Exhibit at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook this Sunday. Time is running out to see the show, which runs through December 2.

For information on paintings available for purchase, click here.

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