Sea, Clouds and Boats

How to paint clouds and boats in a marine painting.

How to paint sea, clouds and boats  | The Daily Atelier

As I was working on how to paint clouds and skies with gouache, it occurred to me that I could use this new-found knowledge to paint landscapes, especially marine art. Marine painting is a genre that is not formally separated from landscape painting. One of its pioneers was Salomon van Ruysdael in the 17th century, the uncle and teacher of the famous Dutch painter Jacob von Ruysdael.

 I was inspired by a small painting by the Dutch artist, who captures a beautiful marine view. The clouds seem to be non-threatening, but the foreground seems to be in shadow – is a storm coming? The Metropolitan Museum’s website explains that this painting was painted in Harlem around 1650, and was inspired by the work of another artist, Jan van Goyen, another pioneer of landscape painting. The museum’s website goes on to explain:

 "The sailboat flying the Dutch flag is a "schouw," a shallow-draft vessel used to ship goods and carry occasional passengers on inland water-ways."

I did not have much time on this occasion, and wanted to make a quick and easy little painting. Van Ruysdael’s painting is in oil on wood, but I tried to interpret it with another technique: black ink and gouache.

Marine, Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born c. 1600–03, died 1670 Haarlem), 1650, oil on wood, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, purchase, 1871.

Salomon van Ruysdael was a dutch painter of the 17th century, particularly well-known for his paintings of naturalistic landscape. He is the uncle of the famous Jacob von Ruysdael, whom he taught.




For this project, I used:

  • a black pencil

  • blue, black and white gouache

  • a fountain pen with black ink.

When I paint with gouache, I almost always use the same three brushes. I have lots of other brushes, but I always come back to these three:

  • My go-to brush is a soft round brush (size 18 in France).

  • I sometimes add one or two flat bristle brushes.



Step 1 – A quick sketch of the boats with pencil

Since I did not have a lot of time, I started with a very quick sketch. In fact, I later realised that the very quick sketch was totally within the theme: the Metropolitan Museum’s website shows a quick sketch attributed to the Dutch master. The subject is different, but you can see a similar creative process.

Attributed to Salomon van Ruysdael,  River Scene with Boats before a densely Wooded Bank , 17th century, Black chalk and gray wash, pen and black ink. Framing line in pen & black ink. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Karen B. Cohen Fund, 1994.

Attributed to Salomon van Ruysdael, River Scene with Boats before a densely Wooded Bank, 17th century, Black chalk and gray wash, pen and black ink. Framing line in pen & black ink. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Karen B. Cohen Fund, 1994.

It was a very quick sketch, just meant to help me know where to paint the clouds and keep a light outline of the boats and the town behind.

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:22. It actually took me 6 minutes.


Step 2 – Painting the sky with gouache

When it came to painting the sky and clouds, I did something a bit unusual. Without thinking, I painted the colour of the grey clouds as an overall background first, and then created the shape of the clouds with splashes of blue sky. It is unusual for me, but it was totally spontaneous.

Then I refined the painting by

  • adding lots of shades of grey

  • adding lots of layers and sometimes smudging everything.

In the short video above, this runs from 01:23 to 02:28. It actually took me 19 minutes.


Step 3 – Ink drawing the boats and landscape

Then, instead of painting the sea, I decided to draw the rest of the painting with black ink. I did not want the sky and sea to compete for attention. I wanted to draw it in a very minimalist way, with just a few lines and dots.

It took a little more time to draw the details of the boats and of the town in the background, but I did not draw an elaborate sketch first. I drew directly with the fountain pen.

For those who are not familiar with the way I draw with a fountain pen, you may notice that I sometimes use the fountain pen with the nib upside down: I have always done that, for as long as I can remember, since I wrote with a fountain pen as a child at school. I turn my fountain pen when I want to draw tiny details (or write smaller). Not all fountain pens allow you to do that – I prefer fountain pens with a round tip.

In the short video above, this runs from 02:29 to 04:06. It actually took me 17 minutes.


And voilà!

I had never tried to mix black ink and gouache before, and found it very interesting. Now this little marine painting, quick and easy, is ready to be framed.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in a regular art practice.

The finished drawing | Sea, Clouds and Boats, by The Daily Atelier


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other landscapes. Enjoy!