I find that a lot of people struggle with boats but by getting people to sketch rather than try a full-blown painting I have had some really good results. Because ‘it’s only a sketch’ people loosen up and forget their boat block, and often produce some loose and lively work. Boats and harbours offer a wealth of painting opportunities.

TAGE ONE I drew in the main features, buildings, boats and banks, and just a hint of where the reflections would be, with my F and S Pitt pens


STAGE SIX I removed the masking fluid and added ultramarine to my stone mixes to describe all the shadow areas in the buildings and the weir walls. I also extended some sunlit wall reflections into the water next to the left-hand boat, keeping it lighter in tone than the shadow reflections

The scene is constantly shifting – boats languidly rolling on their moorings are left high and dry when the tide goes out. I do love getting down into the harbour floor to look up at the jaunty angles of the boats and it’s easy to become engrossed and overlook the fact that the water is on it’s way in – I have got my feet wet a few times.

Depending on weather and the time of year, harbours can be rather chilly venues so I always pack a waterproof jacket and best double stroller for my kids, which also keeps out the wind. I also tend to weigh down my lightweight easel when painting in case sudden gusts of wind take my kit on flying lessons. There have been times when I have had to go on a fishing expedition to retrieve a piece of kit that has been blown over the edge into the water. It’s all part of the enjoyment of painting en plein air!

The importance of the sketchbook

STAGE SEVEN I pulled all the reflections together with a glaze of rose madder and cobalt blue plus some dilute orange under the foreground boat to give unity to the water area. I also added some shadow areas next to the left-hand boat and the lock wall

I tend to sketch in pen and watercolour wash, going straight in with the pen work and then overlaying a series of watercolour washes. I find this stops me from fiddling and also forces me to concentrate on the scene so that each mark is as accurate as possible. There’s no rubbing out an ink line once it’s down so careful observation is paramount. That’s not to say that I don’t get it wrong sometimes but so what – I put in the correct mark and then colour over the wrong one, it’s only a sketch after all.

Porlock Weir

I have been to Porlock Weir a few times and am always excited by the wealth of painting material. On this occasion I had taken a group for a day’s sketching; the tide was out but the lock gates and the harbour walls presented a great subject, which I managed to capture in my sketchbook. Just before we left the tide came right in and the whole scene changed, so I took a series of photos around the area with all the moored-up boats riding high in the water. I decided to get to grips with a studio piece demonstration of this lovely sunlit scene.