JMW Turner painting of a boat on a river with the sun setting and the words page turner - how to paint like JMW Turner overlayed on the image

Recreate a Turner Masterpiece

Joseph Mallord (no, not like the duck) William Turner was born in London in 1775. His dad was a barber, but at the age of 14 Joseph went to study painting at the Royal Academy of Arts. He loved to draw and paint out in the open air, which was unusual for the time. Most other artists preferred to paint in a studio, but Turner loved to get out in nature and took his sketchbooks with him wherever he went. Turner’s work is famous for its attention to light and atmosphere.

This month, to celebrate the Turner Prize coming to Towner in AQUILA HQ’s hometown of Eastbourne in September, we’re having a go at recreating the look and feel of a Turner masterpiece. Let’s get started, shall we?

You will need:

Watercolour paper (very important, other types of paper will bend and warp when wet)

Yoghurt pots for mixing paint

Blue, yellow, red, white and black acrylic paints

Water for thinning

Plate for mixing paint

Brushes (you need at least one big brush and one or two small ones)

Masking tape

HB pencil

Black felt tip pen

Flat stick or ruler


2p coin

Step 1:

Mix up some watery blue in one of your yoghurt pots, to a depth of about 3 cm. Tilt your paper and, with a big brush, paint the blue from left to right starting at the top. Run the colour left and right down the page. DON’T LET THE COLOUR DRY OUT, or you’ll risk it becoming streaky. As you paint the colour down the page, add a bit more water as you go so that the blue becomes paler and paler from about halfway down. By the time you get to the bottom the paper should be white. Mopping with a tissue will help this. LET IT DRY.

Step 2:

Mix up your yellow in the same way as the blue. Turn the dried paper upside down then paint the yellow down the page, thinning it with water so it fades nicely into the blue. Tissues can help here to remove too much yellow. LET IT DRY.

Step by step images of painting like JMW Turner using

Step 3:

Using a 2p coin (or similar) and your HB pencil, draw a circle for the Sun. Mix up some yellow with a bit of red to make an orange colour and paint your Sun. LET IT DRY.

Step 4:

Mix up some yellow and white and paint some clouds over the Sun.

Step by step images of painting like JMW Turner using

Step 5:

Place masking tape as shown in the example and paint in the sea with a good strong blue so you get a lovely deep blue/green mix. Gently remove the masking tape.

Step 6:

WHEN YOUR SEA HAS DRIED, gently add some white waves with your small brush. Just dab them on with the side of your brush. Take your time!

And there’s your peaceful and serene seascape, finished. Aaaaah…wonderful. But hang on, what’s this? Oh no. It looks like a storm is approaching.

Step 7:

Darken the sky with a mixture of red, blue and dark grey (you can make this by adding some white to the black paint) as the storm moves in. Use plenty of water and soften the edges here and there with a tissue. The same applies if you use too much paint.

Step 8:

We now have a ‘full-on storm’, with dark grey, blue and purple clouds covering the whole sky. The sea is getting rough with splashy waves. To do this, put some wet white paint on your biggest brush. Using the edge of a flat stick or ruler, flick the paint away from you so it spatters onto the painting. Try it out on scrap paper first.


Step 9:

With your 2p coin and using thin white paint, paint in a watery Moon in place of the Sun.

Again, with thicker paint and the side of the small brush, put in some lightning. Using a little bit of red mixed with black and plenty of water, darken the beach by painting this colour over the top. Once this has dried, you could flick some more rain over the beach. Finally, with your black felt tips, add a fishing boat braving the storm.


Why not have a go at painting your very own stormy/sunny seascape and send/email us a photo at the usual address. We LOVE to see your artwork!

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Words and paintings by David Armitage