Sharon Bamber Fine Art

Painting of the Week

Each of my paintings has a story behind it. Here, I select one painting or one sketch a week from my plein air paintings and sketches and share some of that story.  It may be the reason that I chose to paint that particular scene or perhaps a snippet of my diary of sounds, smells, encounters that happened as I was painting.  I hope it will become an interesting resource for followers of my work, other artists and collectors.

Spring Melt

Spring Melt

Plein air painting is all about being in the moment and painting what you experience and feel at that exact time and place. But being faced with a scene like this, with all its beauty, noise, movement can be pretty intimidating!

I was standing there with a blank canvas, thinking how on earth do I start this? So I spent some time just watching and thinking about why I want to paint this, exactly what is it I want to say?

I decided that the emotional pull I was feeling wasn’t anything to do with the beauty of the waterfall. It was more about the pure volume of water, it’s powerful surging movement, the feeling of being swept away. This helped me to decide exactly how to approach the painting. I felt this was best said by focusing right in on one smaller area of wave action, as that powerful surge would be lost if I painted the entire scene. So this is where my focus lay.


And this is the result. My painting and my inspiration together.

SPRING MELT 9″ x 12″ soft pastel

Incoming Tide

Incoming Tide

Waiting to be Rescued

Elephant Seal pup waiting to be rescued photo by Sharon Bamber

Elephant Seal pup waiting to be rescued

I went down to the beach very early in the morning with the intention of starting a painting while the sun was still really low in the sky. It didn’t happen. Instead, we saw a stranded elephant seal pup all on its own, on what would soon become the busiest part of the beach. Knowing that this was unusual behaviour, we found a park ranger and let them know. Simon and I set up a perimeter with all my art stuff to stop selfie takers from crowding the poor pup while we waited for the people from the rescue centre, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, to arrive. About an hour and a half later, they arrived and took the poor little thing safely into their care. Very happy – it felt great to have done our good deed for the day. Because of this interlude, my painting was completed a bit later than I had planned, but I really enjoyed it and am happy with the result. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of that pup and the caring people of the rescue centre. Read on for some top tips on how to paint waves….

Incoming Tide, plein air soft pastel seascape by Sharon Bamber

Incoming Tide, plein air soft pastel 9 x 12

How to Paint Waves

This is difficult! Not only do you have all the typical challenges of plein air painting (changing light for example), but you’re also adding moving water and changing tides to the mix…..

You only have about a second and then the wave has gone, so here’s what I do when I paint waves, I hope it helps….

In this painting, the the tide was on it’s way in, so I knew that I needed to paint the water first, as it would change more rapidly than the rocks. However, I also knew that the light would be changing too – both on the water and on the rocks. This meant that I couldn’t spend time carefully detailing the water before moving on to work on the rocks, because by the time I got around to painting the rocks, the light wouldn’t correlate with the light on the water.

  • I decided that a fast, but very accurate pastel underpainting was what was required, establishing the light and the water patterns quickly to provide a foundation for the finished work of the painting. This is a situation that really underlines the importance of covering your ‘canvas’ quickly, making careful, fast and confident decisions.
  • I watched for a while until I had an understanding of the movement, the angle that the wave was approaching and hitting the rocks, how the wave was breaking and how it was moving on the sand.
  • At this time, I also concentrated on the overall value relationships and colour temperature relationships of the scene
  • Once I had an idea of that, I waited for a wave to come in, and quickly blocked in a small section part of the wave that I could see and remember in that 1 second, focusing on its shape, colour (in particular the colour temperature) and value.
  • I then waited for another similar wave to arrive in the same place as my previous wave, then blocked in the next part of the wave. All the time, I was focusing on shape, value, colour, temperature shifts and edges.
  • I kept doing this until the whole of my wave was blocked in.
  • I went through exactly the same process with the waves as they flowed up onto the sand and away again.
  • This is important: Although I was focusing on one area at a time, I was also highly aware of the whole scene, so that I could paint the correct values and colour temperatures RELATIVE TO THE REST OF THE SCENE.
  • Once that sweep of wave was in, I squinted to see the relative values of the overall scene in comparison with the wave, then opened my eyes wide to see the relative colours and colour temperatures within each value. I blocked in the values and colours that I could see in the rest of the water. At this time, I was only interested in the underlying colours and values, ignoring the surface white foam and spray.
  • I then blocked in the rocks, again paying attention to the relative values and colours/colour temperatures.
  • With the whole painting blocked in, I then washed my pastel block-in with water, really paying attention to edges, whether they were soft, hard, lost etc.
  • Once the underpainting was dried, I could then relax and paint as much of the details as I wanted, knowing that the underpainting provided a great, accurate foundation for the finishing of the painting.
Tufted Trio

Tufted Trio

Tufted Trio, 12 x 16 soft pastel studio painting.

I have to admit that I love these birds and I love this painting. These 3 make me smile just looking at them. The lighting and perspective, looking up at them from below, was perfect for me, enabling me to capture their puffed-out chests and quirky characters.  The orange glow of light reflected from the rocks onto their tummies was fabulous to see and paint. They were actually standing in front of a rocky cliff, but I decided that I would remove that cliff and paint them in front of the blue sky. This, for me, was a much better way to represent the feeling of the moment.


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