Color Tips for Painting Seascapes and Marine Paintings: Work with a Limited Palette

by Neadeen Masters on April 17, 2012

Work with a Limited Palette when Painting Seascapes

The ocean is a fascinating subject to paint, but with its array of changing colors, moods and constant movement and energy, it can be a tough one to master. We are better equipped if we approach painting seascapes with a well thought out plan. An important check list is for the color palette. Selecting pigments with a specific reason and purpose based on their pigment properties.

Once the location or compositional sketch has been created, next… think about color and your palette options…

What colors will I use? That’s one place I look to begin. We all have our favorite hues, and thankfully seascape painting doesn’t box us in. The sky is the limit when it comes to selecting colors for this subject. We naturally think of the ocean as being blue…or green…but is it really? It might be safer to say what shades of blue and green might I be mixing today? I usually reach for the following basic pigments and here’s why.

After a Stormy Day, Trost Richards, 28x48in c1885

Color Palette – Pigments to think about…

When selecting the color palette think about what subject you are painting. Study your reference materials and look for specific hues and hue shifts. Watch to see what impact the light and sky are having on the water at that time of day. All this information will help you make good color choices.

  • Ultramarine Blue – this is a warm blue, works well to create shades of blue violets and rich purples. Great for shadows and reflections between the waves.
  • Phthalo Green – Blue shade – this is a reliable, all-purpose  green pigment with powerful tinting strength. A little goes a long way… so be warned! Add a complementary pigment like Permanent Alizarin Crimson and you can control intensity and make awesome dark values.
  • Phthalo Blue – Another powerful pigment with amazing tinting strength. Combine this with Phthalo Green and you have a brilliant blue green master mix that will render amazing turquoise and aqua colors…especially  if your seascapes have a tropical theme. Can also be used where you require translucency for breaking waves.
Toned colors for Painting Seascapes - Art Apprentice Online Toned colors for Painting Seascapes
  • Naphthol Red Light – This is a warm red, also helps to control and neutralize my greens, added to white with a touch of Hansa Yellow Medium it mixes subtle orange and yellow/orange hues for warm sea  foam and clouds.
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson – A beautiful cool red pigment that works well with Ultramarine Blue and makes delightful violet hues. Also great for tinting foam whites, glowing clouds and controlling the green mixes for the ocean.
  • Hansa Yellow Medium – I use this in place of Cadmium Yellow. Yellow helps us brighten and shift our whites, warms for brighter greens and it will inject life into sunshine areas.
  • Yellow Oxide – This is a dull yellow, it’s an earth color that helps dull some of our greens for foreground waves. Not too powerful so it’s easy to use.
  • Titanium White – Nice clean white…I love to use this as my control for light values.

Naturally this is just a starting point. With this pigment selection of both warm and cool colors, we can pretty much mix anything when it comes to creating ocean/sea and sky colors. This pigment combination will certainly help not only the new painter, but anyone control and adjust hue, value and color intensity quite easily.

Join me for an in-depth online art class to explore the subject of seascape painting. Discover the secrets for painting breaking waves, moving water, foam patterns, wet sand, tidal pools, and so much more!

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