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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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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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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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Creative Holiday Gifts for budgets big and small

Ornaments #ornaments #creative #gifts #Christmas

If you are looking for a creative gift, browse my ornament designs at www.zazzle.com/eileen_mckenna.

Want to make a bigger impact? Canvas prints make a great gift! Browse the available paintings at shop.eileenmckenna.com.
Mini canvas

How about some wearable holiday spirit? Give an enamel Nutcracker Pin!
Nutcracker enamel pin 
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Get creative with your gift wrap! Six holiday designs to choose from – including these toy soldiers, available at www.spoonflower.com/profiles/eileenmckenna.
Christmas toy soldier gift wrap

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Surf Collection

Surf Camp #1 by Eileen McKenna https://shop.eileenmckenna.com/Surf Camp #2 by Eileen McKenna https://shop.eileenmckenna.com/
Surf Camp is the third collection of watercolor paintings I’ve released as Limited Edition Giclee Art Prints in my online shop. While my previous paintings featured bright blue skies, for these two paintings I had the pleasure of painting dark cloudy skies.

The Green Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints at shop.eileenmckenna.com The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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The Green Collection

The Green Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints at shop.eileenmckenna.com
I’ve added six new paintings to my online shop! Four of the paintings are “The Green Collection.” You may remember that in August I launched my shop with “The Blue Collection.” Grouping the paintings by the color of the ocean made perfect sense to me when the giclee printer suggested it. Something that has always fascinated me about the ocean, is how the same water, in the same place, can be different colors at different times.

The Green Collection is the second set of watercolor paintings I’ve released as Limited Edition Giclee Art Prints. Click here to visit my online shop.

The paintings in the Green Collection are (from left to right):

  • Jetty Surfer
  • Breaking Wave
  • Rolling In
  • Windy Day

The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints at shop.eileenmckenna.com


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Appreciating living by the beach

Surf campWe sometimes take things that are “normal” for granted. I grew up in a beach town and now live 10 minutes from the beach. After a beautiful afternoon at the beach, followed by a morning watching my son participate in surf camp, I realized, “We are SO lucky.”

When I was a kid, there was no surf camp. How lucky these kids are that learning to surf is so accessible! How lucky that camp isn’t on asphalt, but on the beach. Skudin Surf Camp is run amazingly. Seeing the kids popping up and standing as they take their first wave in is inspiring.
Surf camp
I’m trying to get my fill of beach days before summer ends. 😎

Prints of my watercolor beach paintings are now for sale at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!
The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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Waiting

Waiting by Eileen McKenna. Beach watercolor painting. Ocean landscape. The Blue Collection
This watercolor was painted at the beginning of my “painting the beach” project, in early January. The painting is based on a photo I took on New Year’s Day. You can tell it’s a cold day because the surfer – who is just noticeable – is all in black, in a wetsuit and cap. He has let a wave pass him by while he waits for a better one, hence the name of the painting “Waiting.”

“Waiting” is part of “the Blue Collection” and is available as a Limited Edition Giclee Art Print in my online shop!


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Capturing the Ocean in Watercolor

Painting the beach nd ocean in watercolor

I’ve aspired to capture the ocean in watercolor for years. In December I made “painting the beach” my New Year’s project. The snow was falling outside, but I was inside painting waves. With each painting I learned and improved.

Some of my firsts in early January.
Painting waves in watercolor

I watched a few YouTube videos and learned from others (and wrote about it here.)
14 tips on painting waves in watercolor

I tried new tools and supplies and incorporated them into my process.
Process for Painting the Beach in Watercolor

I’ve kept with it and over six months later I still often paint the ocean. In some ways I feel like I’ve found my thing.

Yesterday I was standing in the ocean, watching the waves break, watching the foam churned up by the waves wash in and out. It was surreal, like standing in a painting and all I could think about was white gouache.

Original beach watercolor landscape by Eileen McKenna

Have you read:
Six Ways to bring the Beach into your Home https://mycreativeresolution.com/2017/05/19/six-ways-to-brin…h-into-your-home/