How to Paint a Tall Ship Sailboat in Watercolour

Skill Level : 2 Intermediate

Medium : Watercolour Painting

Subject : Seascapes

Tutor : Dennis Clark

Class Length : 2 hours 20 minutes

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Class Description

Gone are the days when the ocean was filled with all types of sailing ships. Fortunately there are still some sailboats sailing the high seas. It is certainly a grand sight when a tall ship sails into a modern harbour. The sight conjours up the imagination of pirates and gun ships in battle.

In this lesson you will learn:

1.  How to paint a stormy sky to offset the light coloured sails
2.  How to paint the seas to give the impression of waves in motion
3.  How to add colour to the sails
4.  How to simplify the deck detail and shrouding
and more …

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Dennis: I really enjoyed this class. Thank you for an informative lesson. Kathy

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Short Class Video

Class Tutorial

Tall sailing ships have always captured the imagination of the adventurous. Pirates with eye patches and a hook hand and all that. What we are going to do is paint one in watercolour.

This is the photo we will be working from:

paint sailing ship - reference photo

We will unfurl the last sail so that we have a better looking ship.

Masking the Sails

paint sailing ship - masking the sails

There is a lot of white areas to be protected so use masking fluid to do this. About ½ inch or 15mm around the edge of the sails should be enough protection.

When you have protected all areas that need to be, gently blow dry before proceeding.

Painting the Sky

paint sailing ship - blocking in the sky

With a large flat brush wet all the sky area and then float in some Cobalt Blue.

Be careful to keep the horizon straight.

paint sailing ship - darken the sky

Add more blue pigment to the sky mix and bring a touch of Burnt Sienna to warm it up a bit. Drop this colour into the wet sky and move it around to suit. We are looking for a darkish sky in order to contrast with the light sails. This will ensure a lovely dramatic painting.

paint sailing ship - adding clouds to the sky

With a bundled up tissue dab some areas to give the impression of cloud billows.

Painting the Sea

paint sailing ship - blocking in the sea

Make up a light mix of Blue and Viridian and paint the sea with horizontal strokes. Don't paint it too evenly. To be able to indicate some nice windswept waves use the two colours in horizontal lines and intermingled.

Keep the foreground darker at the lower end of the painting and lighter towards the horizon.

paint sailing ship - adding waves to the sea

Now we can begin to add in the curved lines for the swells and waves. Don't overdo it and make the waves too wild. The waves will get smaller into the distance.

paint sailing ship - add sea colour to the sky

Because clouds show reflections from the sea surface, very carefully glaze in a few light sea colour on sections of the clouds. This creates a colour harmony between sea and sky.

paint sailing ship - darken the wave contrasts

Use a small round brush to paint in the shadow areas of the waves. Note that each swell will have a light refection on the top edge.

A word of warning: Don't make the swells too large in relation to the size of the ship.

paint sailing ship - add ship reflection

Paint the dark reflection of the ship.

Dry the sea area before continuing.

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Painting the Sails

paint sailing ship - masts

Remove the masking fluid off the ship.

With an Orange/Brown colour begin painting in all the spars and the masts. To keep them straight and even it is best to do so with a series of short strokes.

paint sailing ship - making the sails look aged

The sails are made out of a very strong cotton cloth or canvas and unless they are new sails, they will be slightly discoloured and yellow from being exposed to the harsh elements.

To achieve the aged look, start painting, or rather glazing, some Yellow Ochre over the sails.

paint sailing ship - shade the sails

When that has been completed, mix up a light Blue/Gray for adding the shadows on the sails. Remember to show any folds in the sails themselves.

paint sailing ship - add detail to the sails

Continue working on the shadows and eventually adding the darkest shadows under the spars. Touch up, with a light Gray for the seams at the edge of the sails.

Carefully add the other details in the sails and the shadows on the masts.

Touch up all the other smaller details in the sail areas, including the flag.

Painting the Ship

paint sailing ship - painting the hull

With a very dark mix of Brown made up from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, paint the hull of the sailing ship and the lighter strip on the side.

paint sailing ship - painting the deck

Now comes the interesting part of this painting, and it is all the small details on the deck. In the reference photograph there is a ton of detail. Now, we are NOT going to paint all the detail as shown in the photograph.

We are going to simplify the lot by blocking in the main shapes only. Slowly build up the various tones and colours. Be careful to keep the general shapes of the sailors.

paint sailing ship - painting the deck

As you can see there is simply a suggestion of all the items on the deck and no details whatsoever.

paint sailing ship - add ship railings

Once the shapes have been painted we can now, with a small round brush add the railings.

Add Finishing Details

paint sailing ship - add seagulls

Paint in a gull or two for some extra movement and interest. This close-up shows just how simplified all the details are.

paint sailing ship - add highlights to the sail area

With some Chinese White, straight out the tube, touch up all the small areas that need White, such as the tips of the spars.

paint sailing ship - draw the rigging

For this size of sailing ship we would not be able to paint in the thin ropes with a small brush. They would just be too thick. We will add them in with a very sharp-pointed pencil. A 0.5mm Mechanical pencil works very well here.

Notice that I am only adding in the main rigging and leaving out all the lesser ropes. It is not necessary to add them all in. The brain is well able to add them in for you.

paint sailing ship - highlight the waves

Again, with Chinese White, add the bow wave of the ship as well as the highlights in the deck area and some of the wave tops.

To finish off I want you to notice that each sail has a slightly different brightness than the others. Don't try to keep them all the same colour.

This is what the final painting looks like:

Learn how to paint a tall ship in this watercolor painting tutorial by Dennis Clark of Paint Basket's Online Art Lessons
How to Paint a Tall Ship in Watercolor - Online Art Lessons, Paint Basket, watercolor painting lessons, watercolor painting classes, how to paint the sea, how to paint boats

About Dennis Clark

Dennis has been drawing and painting for most of his life (since 1944) and shortly after that in watercolours. During WWII there were no art books so to speak, so he had to teach himself through experimentation, sweat and tears. He teaches the following mediums online - Watercolours, Pastels, Acrylics, Pencil, Pastels, Pen and Ink and Oils.
Read more about Dennis Clark

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