Tips and tools that prove invaluable

Watercolor beach painting
When I think about the progress I’ve made in the past two months, there are a few things that standout out to me. First watching videos of other artists painting waves gave me some great tips (which I wrote about here.)

Second, one of the artists was using a flat brush so I bought a couple to try. The smaller flat brush has become invaluable to me.

Lastly, when I started using white gouache for the foam of the waves it was a turning point.

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Read:
14 tips on painting waves in watercolor
 Process for Painting the Beach in Watercolor

Process for Painting the Beach in Watercolor

There is a real benefit to painting the same subject over and over. You get better at it, and after trying different things, over time you develop a process. You develop a series a steps that you follow every time you paint.

Crashing Wave by Eileen McKenna

Process for painting watercolor seascapes

Here is a summary of my process. Keep reading for links to more in depth resources.

  1. Mix seascape colors  – I mix blues, greens, and browns from ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, and cadmium red.
  2. Mark the horizon line. I use painter’s tape to achieve a straight horizon line.
  3. Paint the ocean water closest to the horizon darker and bluer.
  4. Paint the water in the cresting wave lighter and greener.
  5. Paint the shallow water near shore brown.
  6. Paint the sand. The sand is darkest closer to the ocean where it is wetter.
  7. Paint the crashing waves with white gouache.
  8. Paint the foam with white gouache and a flat brush. Horizontal lines help this area appear flat.
  9. Add shadows to the breaking wave.
  10. Paint the sky as a blue fade that is lighter closest to horizon.
Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners
My video lesson shows you the complete process for painting seascapes. Learn more here.

Learn more about painting watercolor seascapes:

I share my step by step process for painting watercolor seascapes in the following tutorials. Choose the format that works best for you:

Printable Watercolor Seascape Tutorial

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Read “Tips on Painting Waves in Watercolor”

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Process for Painting the Beach in Watercolor

Beach Heart

Beach Heart paintingPainting this beach heart was as peaceful and relaxing as sitting on the beach itself. Before I sat down to paint I was looking through my work for something to post on Valentine’s Day. I usually don’t post things from my archives – not that there is anything wrong with that. It just sometimes feels disjointed from what I’ve been working on.

With Valentine’s Day and hearts on my mind, I sat down to paint and thought of a beach scene in the shape of a heart. I think practicing, and working out a process for painting the beach, was a great help in painting the heart from start to finish in one sitting. Ah the sense of accomplishment!

Have a happy Valentine’s Day!

14 tips on painting waves in watercolor

 

Adding beach bodies to my paintings

Painting figures on the beachI’m proud of the progress I’ve made since starting to paint the beach on January 1st. I feel as if I’m finally capturing the movement of the waves. But something has been missing. Around here on a beautiful summer day the beaches are packed with people. Sometimes we struggle to find a good spot down by the water.

So, I’ve been collecting my photos that include people and trying to incorporate them into my paintings. Last night I did some loose brush sketches. Painting figures in my sketchbook

Today, I worked on refining the water in a painting where I had penciled in several people. Then I erased the pencil lines and using a watercolor pencil drew in the figures so I knew where to add paint. Figures don’t come easy to me and I have to work at a figure to get it right. Watercolor pencils are great because it’s easy to “erase” your lines by wetting them. You can mix the lines into the other colors or absorb them onto your brush.

I’m hoping if I focus on beach bodies for a while, I’ll see progress, like I’ve seen with my waves.

Here’s my favorite wave painting so far. Painting waves in watercolor

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Painting within a theme for 31 days

Painting the beach my 31 day projectThis month I worked almost daily painting the beach. It’s a place that is very close to my heart. I grew up just a few blocks away from it. My mom referred to it as our backyard. I played there, I worked there, and eventually brought my own kids there.

That's me on the left, age 3 or 4
That’s me on the left, age 3 or 4.

I learned a lot this month. I’ve tried different techniques to capture the foam of the ocean – leave the white of the paper, use a white gel pen, use lots of white gouache. I’ve used different blues in my ocean mixture. I painted landscapes, as well as people close up. But, I feel it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more for me to learn and explore within this theme. So, not surprisingly, I’m continuing with my beach painting project. It probably would have been better to declare this a 100 day project from the start. Although that would have been a bit intimidating.

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Having the time to experiment

Adding details with a white gel pen
Almost a month focusing on one theme has given me time to try new techniques and tools, including:

  • Using a white gel pen to add the foam of the ocean
  • Mixing different color combinations for the ocean and sand
  • Adding white gouache to my skin tone mixture for a creamier look
  • Using painter’s tape to achieve a straight horizon line

Straight horizon with painter's tape

Some of these ideas I get from others like the painter’s tape tip and the white gel pen. It has become part of my style to add details with a black gel pen. But when I paint an ocean landscape the black ink seems to dark. It just doesn’t work. A few months ago I saw a post – I wish I could track down this source! – of an artist using a white gel pen when painting the ocean. Wow, that might be the answer to my dilemma! I didn’t hesitate and ordered the pen. It sat relatively unused until today.

I find the foam a bit of challenge and the gel pen is a unique way of handling it. I was hesitant to use it, preferring to leave areas white for the foam. But this particular painting wasn’t going so well and I thought, “What do I have to lose?”

I really like how I could scribble away and create the look of the foam. One book I read recommends using masking fluid to keep the foam areas white. Personally I’m not that much of a planner or that meticulous. I like to wing it a bit. That’s probably why I love painting in watercolor so much. It’s not so permanent. You can add in one area, and take away in another, and continue to work at a painting – that may not be going well – and possibly turn it into something beautiful.

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Starting Can be the Hardest Part

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I can write all about the benefits of creating every day, but there are some days where I’m busy, or sick, or just don’t feel like it.

So what to do then? If I really don’t have a second, or I am sick like last week, I put in extra time the next day. Usually I’ll squeeze in some time in the morning to “count” for the day before. When I just don’t feel like it, I try to push through and tell myself…

…just do a little. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I don’t have to follow the same process like the previous days. Maybe instead of painting, I’ll just do a pencil sketch, or an ink sketch, or just add details to a painting I haven’t finish.

Anything is progress. Starting can be the hardest part and once I tackle that – my mindset often changes and I make a lot more progress than I thought I would.

Today was one of those days. When I finally had spare time to paint, I didn’t want to, but the last two days were busy and I hadn’t done much, so I forced myself to get to work. I looked through my reference photos and decided to sketch the lifeguard chair. I figured sketching it would be progress. I liked my sketch and decided to add watercolor. My attitude totally changed and I was so glad I pushed myself to start.

Tips on painting waves in watercolor

For years I wondered how do you capture the ocean with paint? I decided to figure it out and painted the ocean over and over (and over). I learned and improved with each painting. Years later I still enjoy painting the ocean. 

Coastal inspired art | watercolor seascape by Eileen McKenna

Here are my top tips for painting waves:

Study your reference photo. 

To accurately paint or draw any subject you have to study that subject to really see the details  – colors, lights and darks, shapes, composition, etc.

Identify the main colors and where the colors change.

  • Often the distant ocean is a darker blue. As the water gets closer it gets lighter and greener.
  • Near the breaking waves, where the sand is being churned up, the water is greener.
  • The shallow water close to the shore is brown.
Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

Paint Horizontal Strokes

After painting your base colors use a flat brush to add horizontal lines.  Horizontal strokes in your painting make things look flatter. You can add dark thin horizontal strokes on top of the distant ocean color (waves in the distance). Add thicker strokes for cresting waves near the break area (where the waves are breaking).

Painting a crashing wave in watercolor

Use White Gouache 

Use White Gouache to add waves in the distance, crashing waves, foam etc. White Gouache is thicker (more opaque) than watercolor and you can use it to paint over watercolor.

Painting Waves in the distance

  • Simply use a flat brush to add distant breaking waves

Painting Crashing waves

  • Use gouache to create the crashing waves. Your brush strokes should mimic the motion of the wave.
  • Add grey shadows within the breaking wave to add depth.
  • Use a dry brush or blot with a tissue to create spray coming off the wave
Blue Wave #11 by Eileen McKenna https://shop.eileenmckenna.com/

Painting foam

  • Paint the water near the shore brown and use white gouache to add the foam on top of it.
  • A dark brown line at the edge of the foam makes it look thicker and more realistic. You can soften the line with a damp brush.

Want to learn more about painting seascapes?

Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

I share my step by step process for painting seascapes in watercolor.

Choose the format that works best for you:

Printable Watercolor Seascape Tutorial

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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!

The power of creative prompts

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Happy New Year! I took the last few days “off” from my daily drawing and painting, but I’m gearing up to spend every day in January painting the beach.

I did spend a day or two getting a head start on this project. But there were more days where I thought about getting started but – without actually approaching the paints and paper – I didn’t know where to begin and quickly lost all motivation. Last month Marion who joined me in the Christmas countdown wrote – about following my prompts -that she liked not having to think about what to draw.

This really stuck with me and as I looked over the last two months, first following World Watercolor Group’s food prompts and then my own Christmas prompts, I realized how right Marion was. It makes it so much easier to not have to think about what to paint. Instead I would immediately jump to how I would interpret that prompt. Often I’d check the prompt the night before and have a plan when I started in the morning.

This week I struggled with motivating myself because even though I knew I wanted to paint the beach, I wasn’t sure how to get started. The “beach” is too broad. To overcome this stumbling block I wrote myself a prompt list for every day in January.

Focusing on painting the beach is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. For some reason I haven’t been able to do it beyond a painting here or there. When I saw how much I accomplished in November and December by following one theme each month I knew committing myself this month was part of the solution. That and telling YOU. Just like 3 years ago when I started this blog and told you I’m going to be creative on a regular basis. You hold me accountable and help me reach my goals. So thank you. 😊

What are your creative plans for the new year?