Sandy Dune Acrylic Painting Tutorial

Acrylic painting of dunes

In this art lesson, we paint a dunes seascape using Faber Castell’s Creative Studio Acrylic Colors. This premium quality acrylic paint comes complete with mixing palette and 12 vibrant colors perfect for beginners.


The Path

My favorite memory of a wonderful new place we call home is this; our late afternoon trek down this soft cool sandy path winding through October dunes and leading out to the most vast and stunning beach I’ve ever seen. Big beautiful sky, warm water, and birds everywhere.

2022, a new beginning.


Ultramarine Blue
Light Blue
Dark Cadmium Orange
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow
Middle Purple Pink
Van Dyke Brown


Filberts #4, 6, 8,12

Flat #6, #8

Rigger 3/0 

Acrylic retarder (slow dry medium)

This medium is very effective in slowing down the drying time of acrylic paint. By adding just a drop into the paint as I mix colors, it allows the paint to stay more wet and workable, allowing me to achieve a more oil painted look.

9 x 12 white stretched cotton canvas
paint palette included in the set or use a sta-wet palette with airtight lid
container of water for rinsing brushes
spritzing bottle with water
cotton rag


The beauty of this image is in its simplicity– sky, grass and path. I’m calling the sandy path the focal area; the key will be to translate the light and shadow to make the painting effective. 

sandy landscape


I begin by using a #12 Filbert to tone the canvas with a thin yellow ochre
wash. This foundation color will add a liveliness to the overall finished
painting. It quickly dries.

I then loosely sketch out the basic composition with a #4 Filbert brush and
the ochre color.

Sandy landscape

The sky 

Here I begin by painting the entire sky with a mix of ultramarine blue, light blue, a little burnt sienna and white. I gradate the sky from its darkest blue down to its lightest at the horizon line.

Sandy dune painting

Just 5 or 10 minutes later the paint is dry and I add the bands of clouds. I mix a pale grayed down lavender made of ultramarine, middle purple pink orange (the complement to purple to grey it down a bit) and white and use a #8 Filbert to get the basic shape in. I add touches of cream, pink and warm light grey with a #4 Filbert.

sandy dune painting

The path

The dramatic sunlight on the path is key to the exciting dimensional quality of the image; without it, the painting would look flat. 

Tip When taking your reference photos for any landscape, look for dramatic light. This usually means shooting morning or late afternoon when the sun sits lower in the sky and casts shadows. Pictures taken in the harsh bright light of the middle of the day tend to result in a flat even light that provides less interest to the overall image. An exception to this could be some imagery shot on a grey overcast day lending a soft lovely moodiness.

I begin by blocking out the basic dark and light of the path. the dark color in shade is a cool blue/purple made up of ultramarine blue, middle purple pink, a little orange and white.

The sunlit sand color is a mix of mostly white, a little yellow ochre and touch of orange.

Be sure to paint in the small light sand patches to the right and left of the path that are almost hidden under the grass in the photo. These spots are important for breaking up the masses of grass and adding some interest.

When painting the shape of the light on the path it is important to make your brushstrokes follow the sloped angle of the path. Softly blend the light and dark as they meet.

Painting of dunes with river and grass

The grassy brush

Here I block in the dune grasses. I begin at the bottom with the darkest color; a dark muddy green made up of ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and a little yellow ochre. This will be the foundation color giving the illusion of depth to the brush. I add a subtle texture by applying the paint with a quick scrubbing type of motion with my brush, it is not a thick coat of paint. 

Using a few different Filberts, I then scrub on a variety of other colors; a little olive green (1 part ultramarine blue to 3 parts cad yellow then a touch of pale geranium lake) a sienna (yellow ochre with a little pale geranium lake to make orange, then a drop of blue), and yellow ochre with a little white. I scrub in different directions like grass might grow, using longer strokes in the foreground and smaller strokes as the landscape recedes.

Tip You can help prevent your paint from drying out on your palette by lightly spritzing it with water once in a while. This helps to keep the paint more workable for a longer period of time.

I then begin to work the grasses and path at the same time. I adjust the value of the blue shadow by lightening it up a bit, and add some detail suggesting depth and footprints by making small backwards c strokes with a #3 filbert in a slightly darker tone. 

I now realize that I have forgotten to make room for a peek of the distant ocean just beyond the dunes. An advantage to acrylic is that it is so easy to make adjustments and corrections by just painting over the quick drying paint.

Tip Keep your brushes clean by rinsing them after use and between colors. Once acrylic paint dries on the brush, it stiffens, and is near impossible to get clean. Also replace your dirty water with clean ever so often.


I have decided to dramatically simplify the image by reducing the amount of individual grasses as seen in my reference photo. The painting will be less cluttered and more painterly, and read just as grassy without as much of it.

I use a combination of a #6 Flat brush (painting loosely with its edge) and a 3/0 rigger brush. A rigger brush has much longer hair than a regular brush so it can hold more water and paint at once; it is the ideal tool for thin lines and detail like fine grasses. I thin my paint to a watery consistency so that it flows easily from my brush and paint the individual grasses with quick smooth strokes. I paint them in the different colors of the changing October dune brush, and going in different directions the way that grasses would grow and move in the breeze.

Tip Practice using the rigger brush and painting individual grasses on another scrap canvas. Practice making long grasses with a quick, loose sweeping motion using your whole arm; trying to brace or steady your hand to create slower more carefully painted grasses will result in a stiff and awkward look. 

Acrylic dune painting

Final details

And now I add the tallest Sea Oat grasses and more grasses with my rigger brush. I add some of the most highlighted grasses against the dark areas, and I break up the inside edges of the path with small irregular grasses giving it a more uneven and natural look.

As a final accent, I add the seagulls. I paint them with the rigger brush and keep them very faint and simple. I position them off to the side of the sky so as not to distract from the rest of the painting.

As always, I hope that you enjoyed this painting tutorial. Acrylic paint is a very comfortable and forgiving medium perfect for learning how to paint. 

With commitment and practice you will be capable of producing frame worthy results of a place or memory special to you. 

Artist Biography - Janis Doukakis


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