The beach has been the backdrop of my life. It’s where I was born and raised, played, worked as a lifeguard…and now enjoy summer days with my family. I spend a lot of time learning and practicing capturing the ocean in watercolor.
How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache:
1. Use a reference photo. It is very important to paint from a reference photo. All the details you want to capture to make your painting look realistic are in a photo.
2. Tape your paper to a board. Tape your paper down to prevent it from buckling when it gets wet.
3. Tape your horizon line. To ensure a straight horizon line, use a ruler to measure and mark each side of the paper where the horizon line should be. Then tape across your paper above the pencil marks.
4. Mix your colors. I always mix my ocean colors to achieve more natural looking colors. In general from the horizon line to the sand the colors go from blue, to green, to brown.
5. Paint the first layer. Starting at the tape paint the distant ocean all the way to the dry sand, changing colors as you go. Don’t be afraid to overlap the colors.
6. Darken the first layer as needed. Add darks in the ocean for waves, etc. Refer to your reference photo. If the first layer is dark, consider lifting color with a damp brush to create highlights.
7. Paint the sky. Paint a simple fade where the color lightens as it gets closer to the horizon.
8. Paint the foam with white gouache. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor and you can paint over watercolor. I add white over the first layer of ocean colors to create the foam of the waves.
9+. Add details. Study your photo for little details – shadows in the breaking waves, etc. The details are what will make your painting more realistic looking.
Call it done! Every painting is a learning experience and information for the next painting. Call this one done and then try another one. The more you paint a subject, the better you’ll get at it.
I dive deeper into the process of painting seascapes in my video lesson and pdf tutorial. Give one a try!
Seascape painting video lesson
Seascape painting printable tutorial
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