Painting Seascapes – Know What to Look For

by Neadeen Masters on April 15, 2012

Observation is key to painting seascapes!

For some student painters, the subject of painting seascapes can seem very scary and intimidating. But like everything else, getting to know your subject is the key to your success. Knowing where to start and what to study is the first step. Not only do we need to learn about the anatomy of waves and the ocean, we have to understand the properties of water, wind, wet sand, and most important…light. Painting Seascapes is about knowing how light reacts to water, wet surfaces such as rocks and beaches will make painting realism easier to describe.

We need to understand that the sky and the sea work in tandem; the ocean is a reflection of what is going on in the sky relative to clouds, wind, sunlight and the time of day. At first it seems like a lot to learn, and it is, but if there is a methodical approach, success is only a painting away! If you happen to live near the ocean, lucky for you, but if you rely on reference materials, taking time to study them closely will arm you with the right information. Observing the different colors, recording the depth of color, color intensities, color temperatures, and color contrasts between the waves is a start in the right direction. Next comes the study of the air and atmosphere as well as the time of day. Look for the quality and quantity of light as this helps the artist make better decisions regarding the overall mood when painting seascapes.

David James 1881-1898, Atlantic Rollers David James 1881-1898, Atlantic Rollers – Painting Seascapes

Painting Seascapes is a captivating subject with no shortage of materials to paint!

The ocean moves constantly, it changes with the tides and it reacts to wind and the natural contours of the coastline. These natural conditions all impact breaking waves, and the way waves roll in,  how swells are depicted and how the beach reacts to these surges. When the student artist knows what to look for and how to make decisions regarding the movement and motions of the ocean, success is just a matter of practise and time. The technical aspects depend on how much realism you want to portray. Discovering how to paint the delicate foam patterns, where to place shadows and how to render surface reflections can make your seascapes exciting and full of life. It doesn’t take long to paint beautiful and believable paintings of the sea if you only take the time to study it. Learning to paint seascapes can be a most rewarding subject to explore. The sea is ever changing, for this captivating subject there will be no shortage of materials to paint.

Painting crashing waves and over spray, knowing where to place important highlights and final sparkles takes a little planning. How do we learn this? Observation is one of the keys!


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