Watercolor Seascapes – the Secret Ingredient

When I first started painting watercolor seascapes I left the white areas of the ocean blank. The white of the paper was my white. But I felt this technique left my seascapes looking unfinished. There is so much movement and energy in the white of ocean water – I wanted to paint it, not leave blank areas.

Painting waves in watercolor
My early seascapes.

white gouache

I felt like something was missing. On a whim I decided to try White Gouache. Gouache is thicker and less translucent than watercolor, so you can add it on top of watercolor and it will cover it.

I first painted the color underneath the white of the ocean – like the brown sand being churned up in front of a wave. Then I painted the white foam on top of the brown. This layering help add depth to my seascapes and I was able to better capture the movement and energy of the water.

Blue Wave #11 by Eileen McKenna https://shop.eileenmckenna.com/
Blue Wave #11

Since that first seascape where I used White Gouache (pictured above), I’ve been using it ever since. I use Holbein brand gouache in Primary White. It is my secret ingredient!

the fun part

Every time I get to the stage where it’s time to add the white I think. “Now for the fun part.”

When I’m painting with white I used different motions to paint different areas. Sometime I use different brushes.

Watercolor Seascapes - the secret ingredient

White techniques:

  • In front of the waves (the foam part) – Paint overlapping zig zags with a flat brush
  • Paint a thicker edge to the foam
  • In a crashing wave – First paint circular strokes, add shadows with grey. Then add dots with a fine brush (stippling) on top of the wave (and the shadows).
  • Use dry brush to create spray

Learn the watercolor seascape process

I’ve created easy to follow – beginner friendly lesson to share my seascape painting process.

Choose from:

Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners
Watercolor Seascape Tutorial Download

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Painting Watercolor Seascapes

Watercolor seascape painting lesson - How to paint the ocean in watercolor online video lesson
Three years ago I started painting watercolor seascapes. I wanted to find the answer to, “How do you capture the ocean in paint?” I had just finished participating in three back to back month long challenges and I saw how focusing on a single theme or medium leads to real progress in ideas and skills.

Focusing on seascapes was so valuable. Painting the same subject over and over helped me progress so much. I developed a process for painting seascapes that I continue to follow. Over time I added white gouache – more opaque than watercolor – to my process. I also incorporated some techniques I learned that others use.

I observed the ocean (both in person and the photos I took) to truly “see” what I was trying to paint. I continued well past one month. When summer came and I went in the ocean I momentarily had the feeling that I was IN a painting.

Even now three years later the ocean is my favorite subject. It’s such an amazing subject because it changes so much. The water in the same exact spot can change based on weather and tides even within a short time period.

I’m excited to announce that my online watercolor seascape painting video lesson. During the lesson we paint using a specific reference photo. But aside from learning to paint the seascape pictured above, you’ll learn the process to follow which can then be applied to your own photos.

Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

The lesson is appropriate for all levels. Beginners should have a basic understanding of watercolor before trying this lesson.

If you are completely new to watercolor sign up for my newsletter and get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf for free!

Other resources for complete beginners:

Click here to order the Watercolor Seascape Painting Lesson.


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