Home » Painting Water 101: Watercolor Techniques For Seas, Oceans & Seascapes

Painting Water 101: Watercolor Techniques For Seas, Oceans & Seascapes

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Step 3: The Ocean And Waves


On the palette, mix Cerulean Blue with a dash of Cobalt Green for a bright Manganese Blue color; enough to paint the ocean so you don’t have to keep mixing the exact color you need. The consistency of the paint should be more watery than usual so it can spread more fluidly, adding to the water effect. Start below the left side of the horizon line and paint in a horizontal direction. You can paint the area behind the trees as well (tree trunks can be added in later), making sure not to make the horizon line completely straight as it will be broken by the waves and its surroundings. Remember to leave enough space between the ocean and the painted cliff for the greenery and houses.

Continue working your way down the painting. Leave strips of white for the surf and where the water is more reflective for more “sparkle”. Atmospheric perspective should be applied to the area where the ocean meets the distant mountain range, which is achieved by painting the oceanic foreground a brighter shade of blue (Prussian Blue and Cobalt Green) while leaving the mountain range a dull blue. As you near the foreground of the painting, remember to vary your blues and greens to increase contrast and depth. It helps to have your painting propped at an angle as gravity will pull the paint downwards, creating natural ripples and shadows in the water.

As you near the beach area, leave larger white strips to get bigger waves, since objects closer to you will look bigger (the Rules of Perspective). Use pure Cobalt Green for the water right next to the beach, stabbing your brush on the paper for the illusion of waves crashing onto the beach. Don’t be afraid to roughen your brush for the sake of your painting!

Poke your brush along the white stripes you left earlier with the Cobalt Green, and blend in a touch of Viridian for darker areas. While the paint is still wet, you can also create a rippling effect by mixing Neutral Tint with any blue paint, then using this to paint soft shadows created by each cresting wave and current. Switch between different blues as needed, and keep looking at the overall effect of your brushstrokes to see what needs to be added or fixed. Try to avoid painting regular patterns, as this will make the water look unnatural. Also, keep in mind that the paint will dry a lighter color than when it’s wet, so each time you mix a color, train your judgement and intuition so you can accurately predict how a color will turn out, and how to make your painting look good.