#1063. Wobbly Beach People – Abstract Watercolour Street Art

By Ian Varkevisser | Art & Creativity

Nov 21

In the art world different mediums and techniques of paint are used. Most of the mediums are opaque and forgiving.

Take oils for instance – should an artist make a mistake, he may wait for the oil to dry and apply another layer/layers of oils over it and correct his mistake, as the medium itself is opaque.

Using the medium of watercolours is somewhat different. Whilst one does get ‘opaque’ watercolours, artists tend to use them in moderation, in conjunction with the more favoured transparent watercolours. It is the very transparency of the medium on a white paper that produces the translucent, glowing and luminous colours, which give watercolour paintings their very unique and magical appearance.

Opaque paints may be used to bring out detail but are thought to be muddy in comparison. Backgrounds are laid down in large washes of colour and results are not always consistent and can vary with each painting. Where colour meets colour, there is a random blending as these mingle. The degree of blending, depends on how wet or dry the first colour was when applied.

The more skilled the artist is, the more control he has over the final result. Nevertheless, there is always a random element involved. It is highly unlikely the same artist would be able to exactly reproduce the same watercolour ever again. This makes each painting rather unique in its own way.

When it comes to art, I have a particular fondness for watercolour paintings for these very reasons, as well as for the unpredictability of the result. Having dabbled in this particular form of art, I can appreciate the skill involved in creating images using this medium.

One of my favourite places to take the dog for a walk is the local beach and as a result I spend a lot of time on it. Invariably I take a camera with as there is a wide variety of subject matter in the form of varying activity and colour to photograph. Ultimately one gets bored with taking shots of beach detritus and composing haikus to go along with each image.

I recently invested in a variable ND filter for some prime lenses, one of which is a wide angle lens. Having done a lot of close up, wide angle street photography, I have become adept at shooting from the hip. The walks on the beach with the dog coincide with low tide, which means the time of day, the light and the activity on the beach varies a lot.

Being experimental by nature I started playing with low shutter speeds. Even in the brightest sunlight I could introduce enough random motion in each shot to produce an abstract watercolour painting effect in camera.

Using the sea and mountains across the bay as a backdrop these elements form an ideal background wash, similar to a water colour painting. The vivid beach attire helps the human form stand out, even though highly abstracted at times, due to the motion blur. After a number of different twists and turns, combined with pans and differing shutter speeds, the early attempts follow.

But is it watercolour art?




Candle in the wind




Kite Surfer





Gear matters – Fuji X-T10 , 18mm prime lens , Nisi 1.5 to 5 variable ND filter and a lot of random luck.



​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.


​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • Some lovely images here, Ian.

    I’m especially fond of Bows, Doglegs and Will o’ the Wisp.

    I wonder if you toyed with the idea of cropping out the identifiable human on the right of Antedulvian?


    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Leonard, thank you for your kind comments. My very experienced and thorough editor did make the same recommendation to me regarding Antediluvian. I was simply remiss in not following it before posting as it slipped my mind. Now I shall have to incur the wrath of my editor for the error of my ways.

  • Lani says:

    Focus is so overrated 🙂

    A dreamscape of a coast and it’s rainbow people that you beautifully captured in all it’s wobbly-wonderfulness.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Lani, your turn of phrase is so delightfully descriptive thank you. Regarding focus , I will take your comment any day. If you can’t nail it embrace it and call it art ? It is true that with the advancements in technology and gear there is a modern day tendency to obsess over sharpness rather than over composition and content. Sharp image fuzzy concept or something along those lines.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    This will take a bit of “thought” time.

    Art – well pastels (except some of the oil ones), pencils join water colours. And I always thought that oils do too – just more subtlely – like those brilliant skin tones in Rembrandt’s portraits, which centuries later were found to derive from putting a different colour base beneath a pinker final coat.

    Oil pastels, no – although you can blur them into each other. Acrylics, no – what’s on top, generally stays there.

    But photography can put all of that to one side. Because selecting a suitable program gives us total control and the ability to instantly reverse all or any selection of the “edits” we’ve done. This doesn’t work well, in art – but in photography, the hit rate can generally be 100%.

    You’re talking up a different idea – “in camera” art. Back to basics art. There is the camera – there are the controls – shoot – that’s it! Did it work? Do I need to try again?

    Such a rebellious and innovative idea is going to can the whole of Instagram and all those AI cellphone cameras, and put all the retouch artists on the dole queue!

    Not sure which one I like best – is it “Will-o’-the-wisp”? – or “Gossip”? Maybe they’ve tied, for line honours!

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pete, once again thank you for the in depth analysis that you always take time to provide. Heaven forbid that I burden the taxpayer even more than greedy politicians do by adding to the dole queue. Did it work ? Do I need to try again ? there is a lot more of that than ‘nailed it first time’ for sure. It is an interesting technique that takes a little mastering – one though that doubtfully could be replicated by an app or program – no doubt some clever software boff will counter that argument though.

  • PaulB says:


    Could these images be accepted as “Watercolor Art”?

    Very likely yes, acceptance is a choice of the viewer. And I accept.

    Though, like a watercolor, abstractions depend on the totality of the presentation. Which means they need to be printed. Ideally on a (watercolor) paper that accentuates the image and the feel you are trying to project.


    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Paul, I appreciate your acceptance. Interesting suggestion to print them on watercolour paper, thanks

      • PaulB says:


        Another thing I would like to try would be to rotate the images, in 90 degree increments, to see if our subconscious sees something else interesting in the images.

        The image above I tried this with on my iPad was Bows above. It seems to me that rotating 90 clockwise would give this one the impression of looking at the bottom curl of a flame.

        The reason for the suggestion is, we a photographers tend to present images using the orientation used for capturing the image, and our brains try to put the abstraction back together. Rotation increases the abstraction and forces our minds to review and accept the image as presented rather than trying to figure it out.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Nice work, Ian. I can appreciate the time and effort you put into these images, having tried this technique before. It takes patience, and that’s really paid off. I especially like Kite Surfer & Will-o’-the-wisp.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Nancee, thank you for taking the time to comment. What started out as a fun exercise is turning into a bit of an ongoing project as I now tend to take the variable ND filter with me on street photography walks to enable me to quickly spin it around and get street wobblies on demand.

  • philberphoto says:

    Ian, much of what I had in mind to write has already been said, but I would like to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations, and dare to make two comments. One is that the first impression upon skimming over your pictures, is: aha, Monet was there! Not a bad sign IMHO..:-). The other one is that you de-focus the subject. I tried defocusing my eyes, in the event that, somehow, this double-de-focus would bring out yet more inspiration and delight… and, yes, the result was interesting. Though not easy to sustain on a constant basis, after decades of the eye being used in sharp-only mode. All this goes to show how much your post interested and stimulated me. Kudos and congrats!

  • John W says:

    Ian – What a wonderful and refreshing collection of images. Lani got it right the first time – “focus is so overrated”. I’ve used similar technique on occasion but not on people, so, of course now I have to try it … along with building a DIY kaleidoscope to make the world look like Picasso went a little crazier than usual.

    “But is it watercolour art?” Who cares???” IT’S ART.

    Do I have a favourite? Yes, all of them!

  • Cliff Neil Rossenrode says:

    Whatever it is, I love it!

  • >