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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.

3. 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

4. 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.

5. 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).

6. 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.

7. 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

8. 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.

9+. 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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Painting the Ocean with White Gouache

Painting the ocean with white gouache #painting #gouache #ocean #waves

As I wrote about in my last post, I began painting the ocean in January. As is customary with watercolor, I was leaving the white of the paper bare for the white areas of my painting or I would remove paint with a damp brush or blot with a towel. This preplanning of what areas should be white at the start of the painting was proving difficult for me. And the white paper seemed too flat for the foam areas of the ocean.

So one day I opened up the white gouache…and everything changed for me. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor. You can paint over other colors even with white.

Compare the foam areas here:

To the foam here:
Watercolor beach landscape by Eileen McKenna

Eureka! I can add an underlying area of dark water, then add the white gouache on top. I can use a wet brush and blend the white with darker areas to soften it. I can add shadows on top of the white gouache and then add more gouache on that. I can “build up the layers” – which is the description of watercolor painting that always runs through my head while I work. It’s probably something my watercolor teacher once said.

A favorite foam painting – Surf Camp #1
 "A Cloudy Day at Surf Camp"

Lots of white gouache work here:
Crashing Wave by Eileen McKenna
See more of my seascape paintings here.

The small box of gouache paints I have contains cyan, magenta, yellow, white, and black. It is considered a “mixing box” – from it you can mix any colors. I think I bought it because I heard about gouache and wanted to try it. But it remained mostly unused until this year. The white is called Primary White. Since I’ve been using the white quite often it is running out. When I went to order a new tube of white – several different whites gouaches came up online – Zinc, Permanent, etc. I wondered, “What was the difference?” The comments on this online page shed a little bit of light, but mostly made me think – stick with what works. Primary white is considered good for mixing, which considering the box it came in makes sense. I don’t mix it much before using it, but I do blend it with other colors on the page as I paint. Let me know if you try painting the ocean with white gouache.

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! The perfect gift for beach lovers.

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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Learning by painting every day

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I’m still amazed that painting every day is such a learning process. Some days of course aren’t great and/or they don’t yield great results, but other days I try things and learn so much, make so much progress – regardless of what the final result is. I guess when you create every day, you’re picking up where you left off, it’s a continuous thing. If I have a thought to try a different color for the skin or leave more white paper or whatever, I remember it the next day. When you paint only here and there – you’re practically starting over every time, instead of building on the previous day.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been very mindful of trying to capture highlights and shadows. And since I started working in the beach theme I’ve been thinking a lot about skin tones and the shadows on the skin. I was very happy with the results of the skin of the little girl. I mixed yellow ochre and permanent rose and then mixed in white gouache. The white gouache adds a creaminess that I like. For the shadows of the skin tone I mixed in a little franch ultramarine. When I can, I add the compliment of a color to achieve the shadow instead of black. I was happy with the results. 😀


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11 art supplies I can’t paint without!

11artsupplies

Painting Essentials:

  1. Canson Multimedia sketchbook. Love the thicker paper in this sketchbook. I can add watercolor without the pages buckling.
  2. Fluid Cold Press watercolor paper. I especially love the square shape of this high quality thick watercolor paper!
  3. Uniball signo 207 bold gel pen. I love how smooth these pens are when I want to add ink details to my paintings.
  4. Palette with cover.
  5. Painters tape – to tape down my paper
  6. Grumbacher watercolor brush. Favorite sizes: 8, 6, 4, and 2
  7. Van Gogh watercolor paints
  8. Holbein Gouache mixing set of 5. I love adding the opaque look of gouache to my paintings!
  9. Derwent drawing pencils. Especially with figures, I like to sketch in pencil before starting a painting.
  10. Kneaded eraser. For erasing and leaving only faint lines when I begin to paint.
  11. Paper towel – I have to have a piece of paper towel to suck water off the brush when I need a drier brush. Or to blot the brush after dipping in the water. It’s a good way to check the brush is clean.

Other Essentials:

  • iPad – I do everything on my iPad – google reference photos, take photos, write posts, create digital art, look through and post on Instagram, read WordPress blogs, and more. I made the investment when my Kindle cracked and it was the best thing I did. I couldn’t live without it!
  • ZXU Stylus pen – for drawing on the ipad. I use the apps Adobe Draw and Adobe Sketch because they link up with Photoshop and Illustrator on my desktop.

Other stuff in my supply tray:

  1. Reeves watercolor pencils for adding details
  2. Tombow markers for handletter

Recycled stuff:

  1. Tray from a holiday gift “basket” to hold everything
  2. Plastic egg container for mixing colors to keep the paints in my palette “pure”
  3. Back of the watercolor paper pads – to tape down my paper so it doesn’t buckle when it gets wet
  4. Recycled container (Ricotta or sour cream) for water
  5. Cracked mug for my brushes. It was too pretty to throw away!

This post contains affiliate links to products 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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Snow

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Day 14 of the Christmas countdown. Here in NY the forecast is for a couple of bitter cold days. I would much prefer some snow! I’ve been using my gouache paints to create the night sky and the snow. It’s thicker than watercolor. See yesterday’s sky here.

Marion painted an adorable snow scene here. Check out Teri’s snowy scene on Instagram.

Draw/paint along with us. Tag adventmcr when posting.

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Wreath with a polar bear

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…or is it a polar bear with a wreath? 😂 Day 2 Christmas countdown.

Here is the creative prompt list if you’d like to join in. All mediums are welcome! Use hashtag #adventmcr when posting.

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Marion is following along – see her day 2 drawing here.


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Starting the year off right with a painting.

penguins
It felt so good, to set up yesterday – take my paints out, tape down the paper, fill the water – just go through the process. I’ve missed it. I’ve painted only sporadically during the holiday season. Setting up is kind of a calming.

I had no idea what I wanted to paint, I just knew I wanted to get back into it. Penguins popped into my head, and orange sunset skies. I looked online for some reference photos and found a great one tagged #penguinlove. I wish I could find the photographer of the inspiration photo. It’s so awesome, I can’t really take credit for the painting. I usually try to take my own reference photos, but there aren’t any penguins here in NY!
penguin

How’s your year starting out? Have you starting on your resolution? 🙂


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Painting Winter with Gouache

snowman
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reaching for the gouache paints. It started somewhat unintentionally when I decided to paint a nighttime snowy sky. At first I thought, I thought I had to keep the snow areas white (paper), so I was leaving white circles as I painted the black sky. Which was tedious! I was so happy when I started to flick white gouache paint onto the black and it was much more opaque than I was expecting.

Flicking paint is one of my favorite things. 🙂

After that, I continued with this dark snowy sky in several of my paintings.houses

I started playing with gouache paints back in June. See the June posting, and learn more about gouache paints here.


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A morning dedicated to painting outside :)

rainbowfeather
It’s officially Summer and the kids are home, which totally throws off my routine. As I struggle to get a new schedule together, a priority is having time to paint and draw. The other morning I dedicated to painting, and because it was so nice out, I set up on my back patio.
tableoutside

It felt great! Everyone was still asleep and the weather was beautiful. I had tons of inspiration photos from days prior – a trip to the beach, a stop at a little lake, and an amazing sunset. When I looked down at the blank piece of paper I felt totally at peace. There was no stress about what I would do, I would just let it happen. And I quickly got into a groove. I even turned a test scrap into a feather! (See first pic in the post.)

Sometimes we can be so productive, if we just give ourselves the opportunity to do so. 

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I’m hoping to have more mornings like this one! 🙂


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A Sunset and Gouache Paints

watercolorsunset
I’ve wanted to try gouache paints for a long time. Since reading about Illustrators who used them, and having no idea what they were. [Gouache paints are opaque watercolors.*] Two months ago I bought a little box of paints to try, but still hadn’t opened them! The other day on a whim, I decided to give them a try.
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I’d heard gouache were like watercolor, but thicker, and can create more saturated colors. I was inspired by the sunset after a storm recently (see the photo below), so it seemed the perfect time to try them out.
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I’m not sure I needed to, but I used “India Ink” for the trees. I wanted as dark a black as I could get. In retrospect, I should have at least tested the gouache black to see if it could achieve this. I love the richness of the colors the gouache paints gave me!

Gouache description, courtesy of Blick:
Gouache is an opaque watercolor paint. Whereas transparent watercolors allow you to see the “white” of the paper below the paint, gouache can be applied in solid colors. This allows an artist to paint in layers from dark to light.
Gouache dries to a matte finish, which makes it easy to scan or reproduce electronically, since there is no glossy shine. Designer’s Gouache traditionally offers colors blended from a number of pigments, but some lines of Artist’s Gouache offer single-pigment colors. Student Gouache will have working characteristics similar to Designer’s Gouache, but with lower pigment concentration, less expensive formulas, and a smaller range of colors.