Clouds & Beach WATERCOLOR | Sarah Burns | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

4 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Value Study

    • 3. Color Study

    • 4. Homework

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About This Class


Want to paint better beach scenes with watercolor? This is the perfect class for you! 

In this step-by-step tutorial I'll show you how to paint a value study then a color study of this beach scene. I'll talk about brush control, water and pigment, texture, and color during these real-time demonstrations. By the end of this class you will have a better understanding of how to paint clouds, water, and sand with watercolor.


This is what I'm using, but you don't have to use the exact same materials. 

  • Etchr Everyday Sketchbook (cold pressed) A4 size
  • Silver Black Velvet Brush #12 Round
  • Etchr Watercolor Brush #12 Round
  • Watercolor: Lamp black, anthraquinone blue, ultramarine finest, helio turquoise, diopside genuine, potter's pink, perylene violet, yellow ochre

My Teaching Style

My goal as a teacher is for students to take away a deeper understanding of the topic rather than just copying what they see. I always try to give repeatable strategies that are easy to remember. That way, students can go off on their own and find success within their own practice.

Need more help?

Check out my other classes to improve your landscapes!

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Meet Your Teacher

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Sarah Burns

Painter / Teacher / Photographer


Hello! My name is Sarah. I'm a full-time artist and illustrator living in the Highlands of Scotland.


What I Do

My focus is on landscapes, but I do all sorts of things! Drawing, painting, photography and my three biggest joys.

I have self published one book, Tree Girl, and have begun work on two other books since 2019.

My days are spent painting and teaching others. I stream my process on Twitch and Youtube, and provide educational content on several platforms such as Youtube, Gumroad, and Patreon.


My Art Style

My style is a mixture of realism and expressive marks.

See for yourself


My Teaching Style

I truly believe that everyone has the ability to express themselves, but sometime... See full profile

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1. Intro: Hello everyone and welcome to the studio. It's summer. I am finding myself drawn to the coast, to the beaches. And whenever I go to the beach, I always bring my sketch book. So today I want to show you my very straightforward approach to painting a beach. And I'll share lots of repeatable strategies so that you can go out and paint whatever coast is nearby and will not only paint it once but twice. First, we'll do a value study with just black watercolor, and then we'll do a color version. I will walk you through step-by-step how to do both of these. And hopefully by the end, you'll be able to go off on your own and hate the coast in a very relaxed and fun manner. So grab your sketchbooks and let's get started. 2. Value Study: We're going to start off with a value study of this scene, which means we're only focusing on the lights and darks. When we look at the reference photo and squint our eyes, there should be a few things that pop out at us right away. The first thing I notice is this massive cloud formation. From the center of the reference. They kind of sprawl out towards the edges. I think that's because of the wide angle lens on my phone camera. But either way, it's something that attracted me to the scene. And I immediately notice the bright phony edge of the waves against the dark sand. So two things I'll be focusing on in the value study will be trying to create that sense of active cloud formation and the bright water moving up onto the dark sand. First, I'll show you a quick warm-up and kind of talk through all the steps that I use to just give you some context. I like to start out with a very watery sky, but I do leave some hard edges on the top side of some of the clouds to really emphasize the brightness. But for the most part, it's a lot of wet into wet. And just managing those edges. The sand gets a generous amount of pigment because it's going to be quite dark compared to the water. But the darkest part of the painting will be the distant hills that kind of line the right side of the coast. A little bit later I'll talk more about brush control and using the different parts of the brush to get different types of edges. Watercolor tends to dry lighter, especially when you add more water. So doing this kind of study is really great for starting to understand your particular pigments. My black pigment doesn't have too much of a drying shift, but it is important for me to do a lot of these studies to really know how much I need to add to my brush for the water, I'm using a lot of dry brush texture, which means I'm not using a lot of water in the brush, It's mostly just pigment. The most important part of the water is letting some of that white paper show through because that is how we indicate the highlights. I'll add more pigment to the distant hills and maybe give a variety of textures because there are a lot of houses and trees back there. You don't have to go overboard with details, but just give it a little life. And then I'll do a second layer on the sand and the water. I like using a splash of pigment on my sand to break up that big area. The water gets another layer as well to darken some of those waves and give a bit more texture. And while I'm working on the warm-up, I'm constantly critiquing myself. So I'm thinking, what could I change in my final painting that will improve it. So in this case, I can already see that I want to adjust the clouds a little bit and also paint the waves coming up onto the sand at a slightly different angle and shape. And doing a warm-up is always beneficial because we have to get into the watercolor mindset. So now that we're warmed up, Let's do this again and this time pay a little more attention to the details. This is just a turquoise colored pencil, nothing fancy. And when I'm doing my drawing, I'm using light pressure so that it's not going to show through too much in the end. It's really just a matter of establishing my different sections because I'll be approaching this with the thought of doing the clouds, then the distant hills, and then the sand, and finally the water. Breaking it up into different sections like this is so much easier to manage. One other thing I want to mention is that it's really up to you, the artist, to decide how much you want to copy the reference verse, alter it. Sometimes a reference photo doesn't quite capture the feeling of being in a certain place. So you might want to emphasize certain shapes or colors or even values. And it's completely okay, It's totally up to you. You are the architects of your reality. Okay, with that out of the way, Let's start painting. When I'm painting the clouds, I'm constantly thinking about the highlighted edge. So to paint that, we're painting around the cloud shape. So look for the areas of sky that are peeking through the clouds. Again, it might help to squint at your photo because that will reduce it to values. And when I do that, I can see that that sky color is a little bit darker than the clouds in my starting with that sky color, I start to design the cloud shapes. Notice that I'm using the tip of my brush to create hard edges and I'm using the fat part of the brush to create soft edges because a lot of the water it will sit in the fatter bass part of the brush. And it's all about the angle and pressure of your brush. So I'm sure that makes it obvious how much practice and getting that brush mileage in will really help you improve your watercolors. You can use a single brush for so many different effects. I'm using a middle tone gray here for the sky color, knowing that I could always come back and darken it if I need to. But when you're just starting out and getting used to it, less is sometimes more. Every time you do a value study, you'll understand a little bit better how your pigment is going to react in whatever amount of water you add. But you can just do some tests, brush strokes here and there, and then decide if you need to add more pigment. In addition, if you want to soften an edge that you've already added, you can just clean off your brush, get some clear water, and sweep the very edge of it. I've heard plenty of artists talking about painting skies, saying that you have to start with a very wet into wet layer. But I prefer this technique because I like having very stylized clouds. I like that combination of hard edge and soft edge. Oftentimes I am painting outside and I'm in a hurry because of the light changes really quickly in clouds move fast. So to be able to lay in a sky quickly is important to me, and that's why I practice this way. Notice that I'm using directional brushstrokes to indicate the flow of the clouds. So I'm kind of designing them to start at that center area and move upwards and outwards. Looking at our reference again, we can see that the base or underside of our clouds are a little bit darker. So I'll be waiting down the clouds a little bit by adding more pigment to those sections and then coming back in and softening the edges. This can be achieved in a couple different ways. One is to get the paper wet before you add the darker pigment. This way you end up with very soft edges automatically. You can see that I'm kind of doing a combination of the two. I start off by touching in the wet into wet. Then I work on top of the dry paper to get the harder edges. Because again, I like my clouds to be a little more exaggerated. And it's a constant back and forth between using the tip of the brush and the base part of the brush. All the while, I'm making sure that I leave some of that paper showing through, especially on the top right side of the clouds, which is where I see it catching most of the light. The more pigment you add or the darker you go with your shadow side of the clouds, the brighter and more intense and stormy the sky is going to look. So if you really want to make that sky pop and the sun to feel super Bray, covering up those stormy clouds that are rolling in, then make sure you just bump up your contrast by using a darker, dark. But don't make it anywhere close to the darkest part of your painting because that would just look very surreal. You can use this as an opportunity to explore the values of the sky. So for instance, you'll see when I move to the color version of this, I definitely changed my strategies lately and change the overall values in the sky. But that decision only came after doing this sky and trying to push the values. Once I am happy with my sky, I usually let it dry just a little bit. And then I come back in with a clean dry brush and start sweeping or adjusting things because you can remove some of the pigment when it's still wet. If you're using a color that's very staining, you might only barely be able to remove it. But in this case, my black pigment is rather easy to lift. And so I could just come back in and make tiny alterations. And if I went a little bit too dark and one area, I can just lift it out. And now we want to set this aside and let it dry completely or use a heat tool to speed up the drying time. Before we start painting those distant hills, we have to be absolutely certain that the sky is dry before we do this because otherwise, a lot of this dark, heavy pigment is going to move up into that soft sky we just painted. This is probably the easiest part of the whole painting because we're just getting a ton of dark pigment in our brush and sweeping it over this area as quickly as we can. Since it's a rather small area, it's not too essential that we weren't quickly, but if you're ever feeling in a larger area with a lot of heavy dark pigment, you have to move a little bit faster because that pigment starts to settle really quickly. If you continually brush over it with more and more pigment and you get the water ratio even slightly off, you'll end up with all sorts of weird splotches. So I try to load up my brush with enough pigment so that I can fill in whatever area I'm working on very fast. Depending on how large your painting is, you can add as much detail as you can handle. In this case, I'm actually going to be removing some of this dark pigment with a dry brush in order to hint at some of those white houses that are in the distance because of the geometric nature of houses, it's just much easier to use a flat brush. This way you can simply do one or two brushstrokes and you automatically get a little square or triangle. So again, depending on how staining your pigment is and how quickly you need to come back in and work there. We need to do this when the black pigment is still wet. It doesn't have to be super wet, but just enough to allow us to lift some of that out. So again, the timing will depend on your own pigment. But because of the fact that I need to work when mine is still a little bit wet means I have to be very careful not to introduce any additional water, even if I have a clean brush, if there's any excess water on it, it'll start seeping into the pigment that is still slightly wet. And start pushing it around. And once again, we'll end up with some strange sketchiness that we don't want. Once I've made little hint at those buildings, I'll come back in with some darker pigment again and dot in some of the darker windows. I'm really not using any amount of detail. I'm just trying to hint at those houses and show that people live there. And once again, I'm going to set it aside to dry. It's time to paint the SAM. So let's quickly look at the reference photo. If you squint your eyes, you can see that the brightest part of this painting are those highlighted edges on the clouds and the foamy part of the water. The distant hills are the darkest area and the sand would be the second darkest. Mostly because a lot of rocks and debris wash up onto this beach. With that in mind, I'm going to start laying in some pigment on the lower part of the sandy area. Sometimes I'll use a couple of test brushstrokes and just see how dark the pigment is and then come back in with more water to dilute it. I'll keep the sand a little bit lighter up in the distance towards where the distant hills are. And then as I get closer and closer to the foreground, I'll introduce a bit more pigment. I'm using a dry brush technique because I want the edge of the water to be a slightly harder edge, but I want it to be a very broken brushstroke. So it's sort of imitates the glistening and foamy effect of the water washing up onto the shore. I love to splatter different colors into my wet sand. But in this case, because it's a value study, I only have one color. Either way, this is good practice for what you'll do in the color version. So all I do is load up the brush with a lot of black pigment and, uh, try to use a little bit less water. If you use a lot of water in your splatters, it can get out of hand quickly and you might end up with more splotches than you want. Once again, we're proving the less is more rule to be true. The final thing I'll do in the sand is to darken it just a little bit where the water meets the sand. Sometimes I'll also put streaks or other imperfections in the sand. But in this case I'm keeping it pretty simple. Now we're gonna move on to the water and we don't really need to wait for anything to dry because we're going to use mostly dry brush for this, where the water meets the sky and the distance, the water is much darker, but it's still not as dark as those distant hills. So I'm kind of matching the value that I used in the sand at this point. Once again, I'm using directional brushstrokes. So whichever way the waves are flowing into this beach, I will sort of match the angle with my brush. In this case, they are mostly horizontal. I'm loading the brush with mostly pigment and very little water, just enough water to pick up the pigment really. And just ever so gently dusting it over the surface of my textured paper, which is a huge reason I love cold pressed paper. It makes doing this affects so much easier. To paint any of the more obvious or prominent waves. I'll just use a slightly darker streak of color when in doubt, just go a little bit lighter than you think you might need to because you can always come back with more later. The closer I get to the shoreline or where the waves meet the sand, the less and less pigment I'm loading into my brush and I'm using a very diluted gray. The foramina of the water and the reflection of the sky makes this area a lot brighter because this paper is so textured, I am kinda of scrubbing it with my brush. So this technique is a little bit easier if you have slightly stiffer bristles. So if you're using a very soft brush, you may struggle getting this dry brush sparkly texture, or it may just take you a little bit longer. Sometimes I'll come back in with a little bit more pigment where the water meets the sand, just to show that some of that sand is showing through the water. It's a very delicate balance, but I'm trying to use very limited amounts and just works low at this point because I don't want to overdo it at the very end. And as it continues to dry, I start to notice where things are lacking, for instance, and these waves that are sort of curling over, they have a bit more shadow which didn't dry dark enough in my first layer. Okay, now we have our value study and it's time to start thinking about how we will apply color to everything we just did. 3. Color Study: Everything I've already discussed during the value study will apply in this painting. The main difference is that now we have to assign values to our colors or vice versa. I'm going to start off with a warm up again because this just really, really helps me to start to shift from a value scale into a color mindset. In addition, it's a really good way to practice how well you see value or color. Because by doing this trial run, we get a better idea of where we struggle when it comes to color. I apologize that the camera gets a little bit bright at times because it was overcompensating for my hand moving in front. But I did fix this camera issue for my main painting. I also use this as an opportunity to test out different color makes us to see if I like how they look or if I'll need to adjust them slightly in the final study. One of the main things I noticed during this warm up is that I didn't make the shadow parts of my clouds dark enough. I like this look of very light and airy clouds flowing in the distance. But ultimately in the end, I wanted to draw a bit more attention to that area. And by doing this warm-up, I can get a sense for how much blue versus gray pigment I needed to use. You'll see in the final color study, my colors in the water, in the sand change quite a lot. I was also testing out a certain look of texture in the sand. So in this warm-up, I used a lot of brush strokes to indicate all the various textures. And then the final one, I'll be doing a bit of splatter here and there and not really fussing with it too much. I'll start off with my turquoise pencil again, laying in a very light lines. And I'm basically copying my value study at this point. I'll have my reference photo up nearby and I'm kinda using a combination but more heavily leaning towards my value study to guide me. However, it is really important to use our reference or what we see in person to help us with color, temperature. We all know the sky is blue and that water is blue, but that's not 100% accurate all the time. If I color pick from the sky and the water and compare the two, I can see there's quite a difference. The water has much more green and gray in it. In addition, near the horizon, the sky will get a little bit more bright or pale. And on the shoreline a little bit farther away from us, the water will reflect more of the sky and appear more pale as well. To make things easy, I'll start with the horizon line and just drop in a very diluted pale blue. I'm using a combination of ultramarine with a tiny bit of Helio turquoise, which is more of a phthalo blue. It's much warmer. And this combination is really nice for a sky colors. I'm using the same strategy as in the value steady. So I'm kind of combining the soft edges and the hard edges to paint my clouds. Once again, less is more. So if you are a bit nervous and don't know exactly which colors to add or not really sure how they're going to dry. Maybe go a little bit more on the lighter side because you can always come back in and add more later. But just like in a value study, it's going to be crucial that we preserve some of the highlights on the brighter side of our clouds. And don't forget if you accidentally paint in a hard edge and you want it to be soft, just clean off your brush, pick up just a little bit of clean water, sweep it over that hard edge to soften it. I'm laying in my blue sky color first and then I'll come back in with the shadow part of my cloud. To paint in my shadow color, I will first get the paper just a little bit wet wherever I want that paint to flow. In terms of color, we don't have to just stick with gray. In fact, I love adding color into my shadows of my clouds. So I may start with a black base, but then I'll always add a bit of blue or even purple. And sometimes even up around. To me, this just gives the clouds a little more life. Since the paper is wet, all you need to do is start dropping in a bit of that color and let it bleed and flow. I'll sometimes tilt my paper up a little bit more into help it flow downward or side-to-side. And I'm also going to use the same strategy of directional brushstrokes, sweeping it from left to right and upwards to indicate the cogs are flowing up across the sky. I also want to point out that if you're using a very high-quality 100% cotton paper, you will have much more time and be able to get soft edges and hard edges wherever you want. If you're using a cheaper paper or something that isn't 100% cotton, it tends to drive fast and sometimes a little bit uneven, and it just makes it much harder to do these techniques. Once I get my shadows and I can sort of see where I didn't go dark enough. So on the underside of the cloud, especially I like to have a bit of a darker value just to make them feel a little heavier, I need to work quickly to do all of this. Because the longer I touched the painting as it begins to dry, the more likely I am to disturb my soft edges. This actually happened on the top left of this painting. So this is the perfect example. My blue had already started to dry and as I touched in more and more wet gray, it started to create a weird hard edge against that blue. To fix that, I come back in with the same blue sky color and I painted in. I let the two blend together to soften it up a bit. Now we'll let that completely dry before we move on to painting those distant hills. Again, this is going to be our darkest value. In this case, I'm going to be using a deeper turquoise color. So I'm using a combination of black, anthro cannon blue and diopside genuine. Basically, my darkest blue with my darkest green and a bit of black mixed in. Perhaps I'm a bit too obsessed with turquoise, but I tried to incorporate it into as many places in a painting as I can, especially when I'm painting the coast. It just goes so well with ocean scenes. It's really up to you to decide what colors you like to use in your darker areas of your painting because you don't just have to use black. I love using a variety of colors as my darkest pigments. And once you lay in your darkest dark, which in this case will be in these distant hills. We know the darkest color in the latest color, the lightest color will obviously be our paper that shows through. In addition, I like to think about complimentary colors. So when I paint the sand, I know I'm going to shift it a little bit more towards reddish pinkish tones. And so this turquoise will compliment it very nicely. Whenever you put complimentary colors next to each other, they sort of intensify each other a bit. So if I want to paint green hills and the distance, but still make them appear a little bit more muted. I don't have to use bright green. I can just use a more muted green and then paint something a little bit more reddish or warmer nearby, and it'll automatically bring out the green in those hills. I'm not even going to wait for that to dry before moving on to the sand. I'm going to use a combination of potters, pink, which is very highly granulating or has a lot of visual texture. And as always, my favorite color to add to any Sandy seen, combined with a little bit of yellow ocher and perylene violet, that will help it lean more towards the orange or red side respectively. So just like with the value study, I'm being careful to use broken brushstrokes near the shoreline or where the water's coming up onto the sand. I want the weight of the paper to show through there because that will indicate the foamy edge on the water. But for the rest of the sand, I need to fill it in with color so that the white really stands out. And while the sand is wet, we can touch in a variety of colors. I don't want it to just be one big, boring blob of color. And I really love how it looks when the colors bleed and flow into each other with that potters pink. If you squint your eyes now you can see that as I get closer to those distant hills, I'm diluting the sand just a little bit more, but I'm also going to touch in a hint of blue and let them bleed together. Mainly because the sand is a little bit wet and it's reflecting those hills just a tiny bit before the sand dries, I wanna do my splatter. In this case, my color will be a bluish-gray because I'm going to be using mice bladder to indicate all the little pebbles and things that are washed up on the shore. So instead of sitting there and painting in all the different rocks and stuff that I see. I can use splatter to stylistically represent those things. I'll also add a bit of that grayish blue color to the shoreline grade under where the water moves up onto the sand. Not in a solid line or anything. Just a bit of it here in there. And I'll wait for the sand to completely dry before painting in the water value study, we learned that where the water meets the sky up in that distant left area, the water is much darker and because it was a warm summer day, I want to kinda play with those summer colors in my water. For now I'm laying in a medium value bluish green, and I'll be using mostly dry brush for the entire water section. If I have a wave that curls over that creates a lot of shadow, I'll use a bit more of my blue and a darker value to represent a wave. It really doesn't take much detail. Most of the times when we look at a reference photo or even from life, we don't really see that much detail. And any one single area, the water is moving so quickly the waves are coming and going constantly and every little spot you look is going to be changing. So instead of obsessively painting the detail in one wave, I like to indicate more of the movement and the flow of the water. And just like in the value study, I'll be using a dry brush, allowing a lot of the paper to show through and give me this sparkle. So especially in the distant area, I wanted to darken it so that it stood out a bit more from the sky. And also so that those deeper shadows in the waves would blend in a little bit more. When I squint my eyes, I can really see how well I'm doing with my values. Since my goal was to keep the water's edge bright and sparkly, I needed to make sure I didn't darken it too much, but it doesn't need to be pure white. I can dust on some of that sandy color as well as some more blue to reflect the sky. If I want to break up that big white area. And I'll also add a bit of blue, just where the water comes up onto the sand to represent wet sand. I felt that the waves that I had painted with a darker blue, we're a bit too harsh and they didn't dry as soft as I wanted to. So in order to help those blend in, I decided to glaze another layer, which means the paint is wet and I'm adding another layer of paint on top. Whatever colors and values I'm layering will combine. Since I had already used a more greenish blue for my water, I decided to go with a cooler blue to kinda drop the value of it and also reduce some of that green. 4. Homework: Now it's your turn to put these techniques into practice for your homework, I recommend dedicating a few pages in your sketchbook to painting clouds and water. And of course painting them together. But I sometimes find that it's easier to practice the different elements separately before combining them. Feel free to use my reference photo to guide you. But if you need more help with water or clouds, I have two very in-depth Skillshare classes about these topics. It may take several tries to get the results you're hoping for, but it'll happen in time. So in the meantime, make sure you're having fun. Let the paint flow and do its thing, and really enjoy the process. If you'd like to share your progress with the community, you can upload it by creating a project. If you want to critique or feedback, make sure you ask for it. Or feel free to join the hundreds of people on Instagram who have started using my hashtag, Sarah Burns tutor. This is where I find most of my students and I love seeing the variety of styles posted there. Lastly, thank you so much for watching this class and supporting me. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions, but otherwise, stay healthy, stay inspired, and I'll see you again soon.