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Gum and lacy foam.

When painting in watercolour, you need to plan the painting in advance. There is a lot of white to be seen in the ocean, spray and foam. In watercolour the whitest white is the white of the paper itself. Regarding the paper itself, I find cold pressed best for what I am working on at the moment. We need to anticipate where we want the white to be, and not put any paint on these areas.  We can pencil them in and paint around them. The purist will do this, I have no doubt. However, I find masking fluid a great tool for the purpose. I am painting beach scenes at the moment, so I start on the blank sheet with the spray and foam, painting this with masking fluid/drawing gum. 

The Windsor and Newton product, most readily available is white.  It’s not easy to see a white line on a white sheet of paper.   To use the fluid, pour a little on a tray, don’t leave the bottle open, it will go off.  Here’s a tip, when you pour a bit of the fluid on a (disposable) tray to use, mix a little watercolour paint with it. This means that you will see the marks you make on the white paper. 

The product by Pebeo is better as it already has a blue tint. They, Pebeo, also have a drawing gum pen which is very useful for thin lines (rigging on a boat for instance). This pen I have found very useful for drawing the very delicate, lace-like, foam that we find on sandy beaches when the wave withdraws.  

This is how I draw the lacy foam.  I use a brush to paint a thin wavy line, to represent the closest part of the receding wave on the beach. Always dip the brush in soap first, and then wash it off immediately afterwards. The masking fluid is a rubbery gum, and will ruin any brush. It’s also wise to use a cheaper brush for this purpose.

I paint another line a little further back (there may be several).  Between these two we find very thin lacy foam. It will be different on different types of beach, it’s not really very noticeable on a stoney beach. On sand, it is intricate and magical. I use a nib pen to draw the lace-like rivulets. 

I have spent hours looking at the sea, how it moves, how the waves break and recede back to the ocean. As with anything you notice patterns. I have noticed how the rivulets link in with each other, and how the whole effect resembles a lace tablecloth, but with a less regular pattern.

This part of the process produces a white (or slightly tinted) drawing of all the spray and foam, on a white sheet of paper. It is kind of like a negative. If you angle the paper to the light, you can usually see it better. Creating this can be slow, but it is a good exercise in mindfulness.

Armed with this negative, we can now let loose with the paint.  I usually start with the shore. I will use a wet in wet approach, and usually start with a wet wash of raw umber. To this I might add raw sienna, on the drier (closer) part of the beach, and cerulean blue (or cobalt blue) to darken the colour of the wetter sand. I bring the wash over the lace-like foam as well, with a bit more blue as the sand is totally wet here (and so would your feet be if you were standing there). As the paper will be quite wet, it is important to lift the board (to which the paper will have been taped) and allow the paint to move around so that puddles are not formed. This is important always, when painting wet in wet. 

When nearly dry, I will let it sit at and angle (up-side down), the darker paint will run downwards (towards to foam), and help to create the faint shadow that we find in front of the foam. I let it dry, and will return to finish it off later.  

Once the paint is completely dry, we can peel off the drawing gum/ masking fluid. The pristine white of the paper will be revealed. Use your fingers, if these are sore as a result, use an eraser, or even kitchen paper.

Regarding shadows, I should point out that I live near the south coast. This means that the beaches I paint are south facing, and so the sun is on the horizon. This has only just occurred to me. Accordingly, the foam casts a shadow, in front of it, as the sun is behind it. I think I ought to make it my business  to travel, soon, to the north coast, to see how the waves look up there. 

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