Painting boats and beaches plein air setup
Here, I'm painting "American Pie” utilizing the world’s first “Rod Pochade,” which my husband built. It features the base of a fishing rod which fits securely right into a rod holder on the boat. There are “rod holder” in various locations all over the boat from bow to stern.

Award-winning oil painter Debra Huse has a love for impressionism and painting boats, beaches, and water en plein air. Here, she takes us into her process by sharing some recent paintings, including her inspiration and techniques.

If you’re inspired by her works, check out Debra’s new video workshop, “Impressionism,” here.

Painting Impressionism ~ The Joy of Painting Boats, Beaches, and Water

by Debra Huse

There is no substitute for painting from real life.

The information I get when painting on location is so valuable. Bringing that information back to the studio is key to successful paintings that read as if out on location. Especially when on the boat, I can take the time to view the water, the sparkle on the water, the distant atmosphere of the land masses, the way the waves create a beautiful mist when hitting the rocks.

The way the water is so dark and warm in value and color close to the boat, and as your eye moves away, it begins to reflect the sky and becomes lighter and cooler to almost grey in the distance. You can actually see the lavender on the water usually from a few clouds reflecting.

As an artist stares and squints at various scenes we are noticing and capturing information for future paintings. What is in shadow and what is in sunlight is just the beginning.

Painting impressionism beaches - Debra Huse, "Abalone Point," 16 x 20 in., Plein Air Laguna Beach 2021
Debra Huse, “Abalone Point,” 16 x 20 in., Plein Air Laguna Beach 2021

“Abalone Point”

I painted “Abalone Point” during the Laguna Beach Plein Air event. This is an historic location with this point being in California Impressionist paintings, usually in the distance. It help inform curators and museums of the locations in the early 20th century paintings. This beach location view is rather hidden.

The surf is rich in teals and blues, and in the late afternoon, the cliffs light up in the complimentary colors of the surf. The angular cliff shadow is a wonderful dynamic design and also highlights the sea birds cruising about.

The clouds were designed in an old fashioned manner reminiscent of the old California Impressionists and purposefully quiet in value.

While the wet sand did not glow orange, I have seen that before and this was the perfect time to introduce that glow as a further compliment.

Oh, the joy of painting impressionism works on such a picturesque beach! As the sun set I packed up my gear and walked through a water and sand soaked tunnel to my vehicle.

Painting impressionism beaches - Debra Huse, "Avalon Summer Morning," 30 x 32 in., Commission 2021
Debra Huse, “Avalon Summer Morning,” 30 x 32 in., Commission 2021

“Avalon Summer Morning”

The information I get when painting on location is so valuable. The insights gained are invaluable in producing a successful studio painting. This commission, which of course includes the collector’s boat, was developed from a variety of photos. The request was to have it be warm in key, not blues – a very interesting challenge! The solution was witnessed on location in the calm early morning light with reflections of the hills, clouds, and iconic building in Avalon Harbor called the Catalina Island Casino (which is “Meeting Place” in Italian – it is not a casino as we know.)

Painting impressionism boats - Debra Huse, "Colorful Competition ll,” 16 x 20 in., California Art Club Gold Medal exhibit 2021
Debra Huse, “Colorful Competition ll,” 16 x 20 in., California Art Club Gold Medal exhibit 2021; also featured on the cover of Debra’s “Impressionism” video workshop

“Colorful Competition II”

“Colorful Competition II” was inspired by the ‘impressionistic regatta version’ in my newly released video with Streamline Publishing. Taking the color motion and mark making a step further, the regatta series is almost always based on photos from Newport Harbor regattas.

I love to take the liberty of pushing the color and reflections so the painting reflects the pageantry and excitement of the regatta when there in person. I always add reflections even though there are none in reality as the breeze on the water would not allow them to be seen.

I like to use a large flat brush to push the paint around and get the feel of water. This layering of color and values in the sails is a technique I developed from working in pastel. Darker first for a base that adds depth, then layers of lighter values on top. Lastly, I use my signature Huse rigger brush for detail and sparkle.

Debra Huse painting en plein air
Painting impressionism > Debra Huse with new Signature HUSE BLUE Edgepro Gear Pochade and Brush Box, Rosemary Signature line of Brushes, Huse Hues Line of oil colors.
Painting beaches - Debra Huse, "Midnight Moonlight,” 2021, 16 x 20 in.
Debra Huse, “Midnight Moonlight,” 2021, 16 x 20 in.

“Midnight Moonlight”

This painting has been developing in my mind for a few years. I love that on Catalina Island the Las Caballeras bring their horses for riding the trails on the “Wild Side” which is portrayed here. The horses swim and they explore the incredible beauty this island offers. This painting is mostly from my imagination. It reminds one of the early days of this wild west and wide open spaces. But this could totally happen at Shark Harbor on Catalina Island represented here.

Painting boats - Debra Huse, "Shootin’ the Breeze," 16 x 20 in., Award Winner of December Plein Air Salon 2021
Debra Huse, “Shootin’ the Breeze,” 16 x 20 in., Award Winner of December Plein Air Salon 2021

“Shootin’ the Breeze”

This is from a photo I took while offshore of Newport Beach. The ship had all white sails, but I love the old tanbark sails often seen in Edgar Payne’s work. (There are a few boats that still seek these sails out today.) The sails catch the warm light streaming through and the cool light in the front. I added the reflection of the sails for romance and made up the sky and distant land and boats with intention to compliment such a grand ship.

Painting boats en plein air
Debra Huse, “American Pie,” 11 x 14 in., Plein air from GROUPER

“American Pie”

I was inspired by the grouping of boats, umbrellas and people enjoying a wonderful summer pastime. The dark water and muted blue sky sets everything off just right.

Debra Huse, "Inspired," 20 x 24 in., winner of Plein Air Salon in the Figures category January 2022
Debra Huse, “Inspired,” 20 x 24 in., winner of Plein Air Salon in the Figures category January 2022


“Inspired” originated as a plein air painting for the Cape Ann show in 2019. A nor’easter was blowing. After battling the wind and cold at the coast, I got permission to set up in the gallery of the Rockport Art Association which was featuring a showing of Charles Movalli’s fabulous work.

My artist pal, Elise Phillips, was also in the Cape Ann show and graciously offered to pose. I designed the painting, worked on my model and then added various paintings from around the large gallery show. I designed them to compliment my figure.

I had a wonderful time getting in the great Movalli paintings and frames in a simple manner including my favorites! I had to work feverishly as I only had a three-hour window before closing. At the opening exhibition I was thrilled to be honored with the coveted “Charles Movalli Award” by juror Kenn Backhaus.

This painting came back to my studio where I developed the female further and added the male onlooker. Actually, and by coincidence, the female model now looks like the collector who purchased it from Huse Skelly Gallery!

Debra Huse painting en plein air, aboard Grouper off Catalina Island
Debra Huse painting en plein air, aboard Grouper off Catalina Island

“When I see the boats, they make me happy. They are so full of life and color and pageantry.”

Learn more techniques for painting boats, check out “Impressionism with Debra Huse” – packed full of easy-to-learn skills taught by a master in a fun and entertaining step-by-step video presentation.

Visit to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

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