Pastel Painting: Ruby Beach - Olympic Peninsula


On the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, you can find Ruby Beach, situated on the Pacific Ocean. The curiosity of this location is the mass of fallen trees that have begun to weather as giant pieces of driftwood in the gravely sand. These huge horizontal slabs of driftwood contrast with outcrops of sea stacks, amounting to a surrealistic landscape.

Below is a 12x16 pastel painting inspired by a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in March 2019.


I chose a limited palette, basically representing the lower left of the color wheel. I felt that these somewhat analogous colors would be rather soothing. Interesting that the blues and oranges are complementary but work together, providing a contrast of hue in the landscape.

When I create a painting I want to know my "why." "Why am I painting this scene? What message do I wish to convey?" The overriding element of Ruby Beach is the immensity of the fallen trees and the curiosity experienced by its visitors: see the person perched atop a log in the distance on the left (that's my son Matthew by the way). The expansive landscape is highlighted by the hugeness of the logs and the small figures exploring the landscape (the second figure is my daughter Sara, our Tacoma-based tour guide).

Below is an image of my initial sketch and notes addressing key elements of the painting. I typically do a composition sketch with some value notes and arrows identifying the light source and how it bounces off the elements of the landscape.


The notes on the left spell out the key features, the "why" of the painting, the focal point and color scheme. The composition of Ruby Beach shows a large foreground giving way to a more distant but similar arrangement of fallen wood near the horizon. The viewer's eye travels from the lower right at the base of the driftwood, up along the logs and the curve of the ocean inlet toward the distance, then off to the right along the sea stacks and back again. A circular composition.

The painting included a watercolor underpainting of blues that worked well with the weathered wood and provided deep values for the darker cliff and sea stacks:


I have noted in past blogs that a landscape painting often needs a reference point in order to properly convey the dimensions of the scene. For this reason, I added the two travelers. Another PNW (Pacific Northwest) painting I recently completed, "Rock Rumba on Glass Beach," needed a reference point in order to assess the size of the rocks and the expansiveness (or lack thereof) of the landscape. The add here, seen below, is the seagull sitting atop the rock at the water's edge.


Planning a painting and letting your imagination take over is the true joy of creating art. I use reference photos to plan and start a painting, but then I abandon the photo to let my thoughts tell the rest of the story. Let me know if you have any questions about my approach to building my contemplative landscapes!

For available paintings for purchase, please click here.

#RubyBeach #PacificNorthwest #Wasintgon #ocean #beach