How to Paint Waves for Seascapes

Written by carl hose
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Seascapes provide popular subject matter for paintings. From "The Gulf Stream" by Winslow Homer to the seemingly unlimited paintings found at auctions and art galleries, the sea plays a prominent role in art. A feature of any seascape is the waves, whether calm and lulling or under the influence of a raging storm. By learning to paint realistic waves, you can give your seascape paintings life and contribute to the vast artistic history of preserving the image of the sea on canvas for future generations.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pencil
  • Canvas
  • Paint (oil or acrylic)
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint thinner

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  1. 1

    Sketch your waves in pencil directly on the canvas. Use curved, rolling lines for calmer waves or draw high arcs with sharp points to depict a stormy sea. The height and arc of the waves will define waves rolling against the shore or crashing against the shore, which will set the tone for every other aspect of your painting.

  2. 2

    Brush the tips of your waves with a small, flat fan brush to build the basis for the foamy appearance in the waves. Add a touch of grey and blend it into the white to create some definition. Dip your brush in thinner and lightly apply it to the canvas to blend thicker areas of paint.

  3. 3

    Brush on varying shades of blue beginning at the base of your waves and up to the white. Don't be afraid of mixing colours, whether intentional or not. Blending colours will help add the tonal variation that gives the water realism. At the line where your blue paints meet the white, sweep your brush from top to bottom, bringing some of the white down into the blue for blending purposes.

  4. 4

    Paint with a very light grey on the underside of the wave arcs to give each wave a more dimensional appearance to help lift them away from the canvas. Use a small sponge and dab at the wet paint to create some texture around the foamy portions.

  5. 5

    Paint thin lines of darker shades of blue and a little green at the base of the waves to show movement. Brush the lines on in the direction you want your waves to go. Use a small, angled brush to apply these lines.

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