• Cat Regi

5 tips for painting watercolour pebbles

One of my favourite things to paint having grown up in Devon is oceans and pebble beaches.

I find painting pebbles really soothing, it’s slow, weirdly both detailed and imprecise, and whilst they’re one of my paintings that actually benefit from crisp neat edges around each pebble, within the pebble is a gorgeous mottled mess of granulation and colours mixing and salt and texture. Here are my five tips for when approaching painting watercolour pebbles.

Remember: it doesn't matter if they're perfect, you can play and practise and find a way of painting them that you enjoy.

The more times you try them the more you'll discover what works for you. Just go for it. #antiperfection 😉

Materials: paintbrush, watercolour paint, pencil (normal or watercolour), paper (watercolour if possible).

Watercolour pebbles showing use of different colours, salt texture, dark crisp backgrounds
Watercolour pebbles

1) Leave them until the end of the painting - for me personally I find them to be quite reliable and simple but time consuming. I would always do areas that are a bit more down to luck first, like the sky because it’s so reliant on exactly how the water and pigments play together on that day. That means you can wait until you get the sky and waves how you want them before spending lots of time perfecting the pebbles (to have the time potentially wasted if the less predictable sky wash doesn’t go as planned).

A set of photos showing the progression from blank page to completed ocean. It shows the sky is painted first, then the waves and finally the pebbles
Ocean painting process

2) Try out reds and blues to create good greys - I love cobalt based blues and rusty/terracotta type reds in various quantities to make the various greys of the beaches I grew up near. You might have different favourite shades but try these as a starting point. You can dab them into each other to create interesting patterns and watermarks.

A variety of pebbles of different blue/red tints within the greys
Pebbles with different colours

3) Crisp edges with texture inside - this is a painting subject which benefits (in my opinion!) from crisp edges. Draw a range of ovals with the largest closest to you and smaller as you move away, and then keep the edges of the pebbles sharp and the insides full of texture and mixing colours. You can accentuate the sharper edges up close by painting a really dark colour into a few of the gaps between the pebbles in the foreground. As you move into the distance you can make the pebbles a bit softer and looser and blend them into the waves or sand.

Watercolour pebbles

The beginning of the pebble process where masking fluid has been sprayed onto the paper
Pebble painting process

4) Textures - textures are important to get the rough pebble surface looking realistic. Before I get started I flick masking fluid onto the area of paper which will be pebbles with a toothbrush. At the end of the painting when it’s totally dry you can then rub this off to add more white speckles to the area. Another option is salt, while the first wash of colour on each pebble is still wet or damp try sprinkling a bit of salt on (fine and course salt will give different effects). You can also use certain paints which split and granulate nicely or a granulation fluid but I find between salt, masking fluid, and just dabbing paint into wet layers and letting them run into each other you get plenty of texture.

Try different combinations - cobalt and terracotta work well for grey

5) Shadows - picture where your light is coming from, you could even draw a faint arrow on the paper to remind yourself, which will help consistent shading. When you put down the initial colour, use a contrasting colour to create the shadows. As an example, you could wash the pebble with a watered down cobalt then use the rusty terracotta shade to dot in the shadows which will form a darker grey. Its worth doing several layers of shadows and blending them in then going in for another later once dry. Only stop going back in once you’re sure you’ve got all the shape and texture that you want.

I'd love you to tag me at @hellobadibidu if you give it a try, you never know you might encourage someone else to give it a try too!

Please have fun and play with colours and shapes, don't worry if it's exactly how you pictured it when you started!

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