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How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache

How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips
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. Reference photo. I always work from a photo. I have the luxury of taking my own ocean photos, but even if you can’t, there are plenty of photos online to use as reference.

2. Tape your paper to a board. My favorite paper is Fluid watercolor blocks. I use the cardboard back of an old, larger pad and painter’s tape.

4. Tape your horizon line. To ensure a straight line I tape it. I eyeball how much from the photo and measure and mark with pencil both sides of my paper so it’s straight. Put the tape above your marks.
Tape your horizon for a straight edge when painting the ocean in watercolor

5. Mix your colors. I use ultramarine, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow and mix them to achieve the different shades of the ocean. Since the ocean is many different colors I find this to be the best way to achieve the natural looking colors I’m looking for. The color of the distant ocean is usually bluer, the waves that are closer are greener, and underneath the foam is brown water. Very wet sand reflects the sky and has a bluish tint. As the sand gets further from the ocean (and is drier), it is lighter.

6. The first layer. I paint with a brush, wet with paint, onto dry paper. I start at the horizon with a bluer mix for the distant ocean and switch to a greener mix for closer waves. For the underneath of the foam of the crashing wave I add a little grey (made from my mix of blue, red, and yellow) and light greens. In front of the wave, I use a browner blue mix and closer to the shore, where the foam is, I use a brown mix. The sand closes to the water’s edge is darkest. From there I lighten the brown (make more translucent) with water for the drier sand. I cover most of the paper.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips
Let your first layer dry. The first layer often looks like a blob – don’t be discouraged! Watercolor is all about building up the layers and nothing is really permanent. You can manipulate and even erase the paint (by touching it with a wet brush and blotting the brush on a paper towel).

7. Adjusting the first layer – If your first layer is a bit washed out, add more paint to darken it. Use your photo as your guide. You can use this time to add darks and lights in the distant ocean, as well as within the wave in the foreground. If your first layer is very dark, you can use a wet brush to pull up some of the paint, to create highlights.

8. The sky. When your ocean at the horizon is completely dry, gently peel up the tape. The simplest way to paint the sky is to start at the top of the painting (I always turn it clockwise to paint the sky). Paint with a brush saturated with cerulean blue at the top of the painting (on your right if you turned it). Test the saturation of cerulean blue on a scrap of paper before touching your painting. Paint a few thick strokes, then dip your brush into your water, and paint another few strokes touching your first one. Paint to horizon line, dipping in water again if needed. You are watering down the paint as you get closer to the horizon line. The sky is lighter at the horizon and more saturated as you look up from there. Read this post if you want to explore painting more complex skies.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

9. The foam – White gouache. Add the foam in the break of the wave and closer to the shore with white gouache. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor so you can paint with white over other colors. Use a flat brush and create overlapping horizontal zig zag lines for the foam close to shore. The flat brushes I use are: 1/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″. In the breaking wave use different techniques – with a round brush paint circular strokes, and paint small dots or specks (stippling).
Painting with gouache
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

Let this layer dry.

10+. Adding details. Compare your painting to your reference photo. They do not need to be exact! What areas need more detail, highlights, shadows, or color changes, etc.? This can involve several additional layers, with drying time in between, or just one or two. It all depends on the look you are going for – how loose, how realistic.

Details I add:

In the foam: I usually add more shadows (with dark brown or grey) within the foam, and blend it with the gouache, and more white gouache zig zag strokes on top of that.

In the crashing wave: There is a lot of depth in a crashing wave. I usually add shadows on top of the gouache and then add more gouache on top of that. Add little white dots for spray. I sometimes pat my finger on top of these so they look more natural. Depending on my reference photo, I may need to paint on the barrel of the wave (with a mostly dry brush). I usually add darker areas in the water in front of the breaking wave.

Distant ocean: If needed – dark and light areas for forming waves, and moving water.

Dark sand at the ocean’s edge: Right next to the edge of the water add a dark line of brown. Then go back with a wet brush and touch the line to “bleed” the brown.
Painting the ocean's edge
Add more paint to the wet area if necessary to create more wet sand.
Painting the ocean's edge

Calling it done! I usually work on a painting on and off for about a week. When I think it is close to being done, I prop it up and look at it from across the room. I may add a few more details. Sometimes it’s better to call it done, because tweaking it, may affect other areas. I’ll remember the “challenges” with a painting and try to overcome them in the next painting. I’d love to see YOUR seascape! Email me at lidesigner@yahoo.com.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

View my collection of watercolor seascapes here. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

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This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

 

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Confidence in painting

Confidence in painting
The other morning I sat down to paint in an effort to turn my bad mood around. As I was painting, and not feeling great about myself, I was thinking how much confidence plays a part in painting. When you are feeling good, you are hopeful about the outcome of a painting as you work. But when you are feeling low, it’s easy for negative thoughts to sabotage your work. At these times it’s even hard to motivate to sit down and paint in the first place.

Thankfully, painting did help turn my mindset around and most of the things bothering me either worked themselves out, or proved to not be as bad as I let them seem.

A few days later I was reading Chip Gaines’s book “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.” Chip, along with his wife Joanna, starred in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Chip’s book is about their story, and is also very motivational. Because of my recent thoughts on confidence and painting, this quote really spoke to me:

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff

I’m glad that I sat down the other morning to paint despite my mood. I know that if you really want something, you have to work at it no matter what, and I’m trying to put that into practice. Check out Chip’s book here.

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!


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Know your Subject

Knowing your subject when painting | painting the ocean
I often think about an online class I took by Val Webb called “Drawing Children.” At the time, I was amazed at how well Val knows the nuances of the faces and figures of children. Now as I paint the ocean – almost exclusively, mostly in watercolor, but recently in acrylics – I think about not just the techniques to make the painting look realistic, but the characteristics of the ocean.

As I was painting the water, specifically the foam at high tide, I was painting and pulling back the strokes, because I was thinking about how the water is being pulled back by the tide. This is something you wouldn’t know just by looking at a photo. All the time I’ve spent at the beach might be making a difference in my painting. Last summer, after painting the ocean all winter, I looked and observed the water differently than before.

Work in progress where I was “pulling back”
Know your subject - painting the ocean

My son recently asked if I was going to paint anything else. I guess to him, every painting is similar. To me I’m learning with each painting. The ocean looks so different at different times and different angles. I’m sticking with the ocean, and I’m currently challenging myself by working to capture this amazing subject in acrylics.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Comfortable with Acrylics

Going from watercolor to acrylics, painting acrylic seascapes
Starting this third set of canvases was the first time I felt comfortable – instead of frustrated – with acrylic painting. I was working on my first layer, blending all my colors on the canvas, and I had that feeling that I usually have with watercolor. It’s a happy, satisfied feeling, that what you are picturing in your mind is coming out on the canvas. I’m learning how to work the acrylics. I’m getting it. The first layer of this painting felt like a break through.

The first layer:
Going from watercolor to acrylics

What I’ve learned about acrylics so far this month:

  • A coat of gesso makes the paint go on easier
  • When your brush starts to split – you need more water
  • When your brush is drippy – that’s too much water
  • Blend the colors next to each other for a more natural look
  • Add highlights by adding white paint (or lighter paint) to your brush and blending it with the wet paint on the canvas
  • Use little canvases (or a canvas pad) to test color mixes
  • Painting in acrylic involves more set up and prep than watercolor
  • It is not at easy as watercolor to make a quick fix or change
  • It is better to work when the paint on the canvas is wet and you have plenty of your colors mixed and ready

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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The second set of Acrylic Seascapes

Transitioning from watercolor to acrylicTransitioning from watercolor to acrylic
With 10 sets of 12” square canvases to complete this month, I have many paintings in various stages. For these 2, the second set of my acrylic canvas challenge, I wanted to add more lights and darks within the green of the wave. (See before below).
From watercolor to acrylic. Seascapes
I’m learning that with acrylics, it is better to work on a whole area of a painting to better blend the paints and create highlights and shadows. To do this, you need all those colors mixed and ready. I realized this yesterday when I tried to just add some highlights. Without the dark paint to blend into, my quick tweak didn’t go well.

Today I sat and mixed the paints and worked on finishing these. I was beginning to regret fussing with the paintings at all – you fix one area, and sometimes ruin another. At a certain point you have to call a painting done, and take what you learned to the next painting. Overall I’m happy with my progress so far this month.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Blending and fading colors in acrylic paint

Blending colors in acrylic paint
I was so excited to start the second set of acrylic canvases, I dove right in Saturday morning. I had been mulling over what was bothering me about the first set of canvases, as well as what I learned, and I realized these two things perfectly intersected.

I learned about blending and fading color in this video and then saw Katie Jobling painting a wave in this video. My main complaint with my first set of paintings was that the wave and water behind it looked flat. It looked like a solid block of color. I wasn’t successful in adding highlights and darks to it. What I realized was, I needed to paint, from the beginning, a background that wasn’t solids, but blends. And from there I can add more detail – by adding more blends on top.

Blending the colors is working great so far. I’m really happy with my first layer. It is still a challenge mixing the right colors. I don’t like to work straight from the tube as the colors don’t look as natural. I’ve gotten pretty good at mixing colors in watercolor to achieve the palette I want. I’ll keep trying in acrylic. I do need to use more paint! I tend to mix too little. I’m used to watercolor paints where a little paint goes a long way.

For this set I have my reference photo out, so I can look at the highlights and shadows as I paint the blends. I didn’t refer to the reference photo much for the last set, because I wanted the painting to be a little looser. But I think I ended up missing a lot.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Making the Transition from Watercolor to Acrylic – Week 1

Transitioning from watercolor to acrylic
Final acrylic work for week 1.

I’m happy with the results and learned a lot this week as I try painting in acrylic after working for so long in watercolor. Admittedly, the first day in my acrylic challenge was frustrating.

I’m so used to working in watercolor where:

  • A little paint goes a long way
  • Water lightens color
  • Paint goes on the paper so easily, especially wet paper with a wet brush
  • You need just a cup or two of water for brush cleaning
  • One paper towel is all you need to occasionally dry a brush

Day 1 with acrylics:

  • The paint wasn’t going on smoothly
  • I was brushing off paint and creating messy clumps
  • I had to change out my cups of water frequently
  • My paint mixes were so dark I had to mix in a lot of white

Lessons learned the first day:

  • Mix in a little water for smoother brushing (helpful site: www.artisfun.com)
  • Perhaps apply gesso prior to painting (recommended by above website)
  • Let layers dry to avoid brushing off paint and creating clumps
  • Have lots of rags handy!

Day 2 with acrylics:
Transitioning from watercolor to acrylic

  • Mixing in a little water helped. Paint went on smoothly.
  • When I want to create a fade in watercolor, I apply the color and then use water to fade it out. Doing this in acrylic, adding too much water, creates a strange look and I worry it will rub off.

Overall, I was proud of my progress on Day 2.

Day 3:
Transitioning from watercolor to acrylic

  • Similar struggle with how to fade colors (without too much water)
  • Struggled with mixing the right color for the sand

Lessons learned on Day 4. (I combined painting with watching instructional YouTube videos.)

  • Fading colors. This video was very helpful regarding fading:.
  • How much is too much water? This video answered my question on mixing in water. 80% paint, 20% water max.

I’m still trying to figure out the right color mixes, especially sand, which is ironic because back at the beginning of my blog (2014), I was painting in acrylic and trying to figure out what color sand is! Overall I’m happy with my progress and am looking forward to learning more next week!

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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May Acrylic Canvas Project

May Acrylic Canvas Project! Painting seascapes
I’m so excited about my May project! After painting watercolor seascapes for over a year, I’m adding acrylic and canvas to my routine. I’ve purchased 10 canvases and plan on completing them by the end of the month.

I’ve painted in acrylics on and off over the years, but never enough to feel completely comfortable. Since starting my watercolor seascape project (almost a year and a half ago) I’ve wanted to try my techniques on canvas, and did try it once. The transition wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The colors I mixed weren’t quite right, and I felt uncomfortable painting at an easel – I’m used to working flat at a table with watercolor.

I decided to do a few things to make my Acrylic Seascape project easier:

A comfortable size. I purchased 12” x 12” canvases – a size I often work in with watercolor. This smaller size will be more manageable on a table, since I plan on working flat.

Shorter handled brushes. The acrylic brushes I have are probably designed for painting on an easel, but the longer handles feel awkward when painting at a table. I bought a new set of brushes with shorter handles.

Familiar colors. I bought new paints in the same colors I use for mixing my ocean and sand colors in watercolor.

A focused time period. My watercolor seascape project began as a month long project. Focusing on one thing, brought results quickly – I learned a lot and my technique improved. I’m hoping my plan of working on these 10 canvases over the month, yields similar results.

Following my seascape process. Over the past year and a half I’ve developed a process for painting seascapes. I plan on following my process, using my techniques, and learning along the way how to adapt it all to acrylic paint.

wish me luck!

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Capturing the Bluest Blue Sky

Painting the sky in watercolor

I’m happy with the results of the sky above, which is ironic because I thought this painting was a lost cause. This is what it looked like:
Blue skies in watercolor

In an effort to capture the saturated blue of the sky (with a hint of purple), I had previously used several colors (including cadmium red and ultramarine) and the above was the result. It was too purple, and too dark. It looked like a cloudy day.

I didn’t give up. I removed a lot of the paint  by wetting it and soaking it up with the brush, and also blotting with a paper towel. Then I added cerulean blue on top. It was this layering of the colors that helped achieve the blue I was looking for. I don’t think the cerulean alone would have worked as well.

I also painted clouds and highlights with white gouache. I’ve been using white gouache for the foam of the ocean for a while but only recently have I been using it in my skies. I’m loving the results. Just shows that you gotta push through the ugly stage!

Read more on painting watercolor skies here:
Painting the sky in Watercolor #watercolor #skies #sky 

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

View my collection of watercolor seascapes at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

 


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Painting my favorite candy – Dots

Painting candy packaging - Dots #candy #illustration #food
Uppercase Magazine – a favorite creative magazine of mine – recently had a call for submissions of artwork of your favorite packaging. I of course picked one of my favorite childhood candies, DOTS, to paint. (And Yes, I ate all the DOTS.)

One of my goals this year is to get my artwork “out there.” I’m not necessarily searching for places to submit my work, but staying alert for opportunities, in places that I’m a fan of.

So far:

I view each submission as a victory, regardless if I’m accepted or not. It is an accomplishment to follow through and submit, and in many cases create new art for the submission. And just like the old lottery slogan, “You’ve got to be in it, to win it.”

 

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

Have you visited my online shop? Prints of my seascapes are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes including the new “mini” canvas 11″ x 14″ at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!

This contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!