Catching Some Wave Action (Tutorial)

12:00 PM

Have you ever wondered how to sketch a waves, whether on location or in person?

If you're local, please come and join me at Keeton's in Bradenton where we'll be painting waves on Saturday, January 23rd, from 9 am to 12:30 pm. It will be loads of fun! Click here for more info!

Below are some observations on my approach to sketching waves from a photo. After sketching from waves, I highly recommend tackling a few in your sketchbook while you're on location.

Even if you were the speediest sketcher ever, it's doubtful you'd be able to sketch just one wave while you at the beach. Instead, you'd be sketching parts of different waves as they rolled into shore. With a photograph, that's one thing you don't have to worry about as the wave is stopped for you.

Before you start sketching, there's a very important first step you need to do and that's to study the waves to see their shapelight and dark parts of them, where the sun is hitting and what reflections are showing up in the water in front of the wave as well as behind it. All of these things are necessary to sketch a realistic looking wave.

It's up to the artist whether or not to sketch waves in pen or pencil. I've done both and I've found that I prefer just pencil.

When you're ready to sketch, take note of where you place the horizon line. Try to avoid placing it in the middle of the sketch. As humans, we like things divided in thirds rather than halves.

Once you have the horizon line in place, decide if you will add any sand or if your sketch will be all water.  If you're going to add sand, indicate the sand line (bottom of the sketch) AND the water line. I always try to make my water line uneven as water seldom rolls into the shore in an even, straight line.

Study the waves to find out how close to shore they're breaking. You can adjust the waves closer or farther from shore to make a more pleasing composition as well as how many waves are breaking...remember the photo is just for reference!

Sketch the general shape of a wave, clearly defining the white splash of the wave as it breaks. Notice it is not even on the bottom or the top. Include lines to indicate the reflections in front of it. Be sure to draw the edges where the water can be seen curling over on either side. Pencil in the small wave as well. I do not mark the areas of white foam before and behind the smaller wave that can be see in the image above as I know it's there. If you're concerned you'll forget it, lightly mark it in pencil.

Once you're satisfied with your sketch, pull out your paints and paint in your sky. I used a tissue to blot up some of the cloud shapes. While this is drying, I switched to the other end of the paper and painted in my sand and I make sure to go past my waterline as the sand would show through the shallow water.

Once I went far enough, I feathered out the edge so that it faded back to the white of the paper. After the paper was dry, I went back with a dark blue and started at the horizon line and painted down towards the big wave. Along the way, I added some green to the blue to indicate we were closer to shore and the water was not as deep.

Picking up more dark blue, I continued painting around the whites of the wave and towards the foamy area of the water. To indicate the foam, I leave lots of skips allowing the white of he paper to show through. At this point, I stop and check out the reflection in front of my wave. If it needs to be lighter, I can either lift with my brush or use a tissue.

Picking up more of the blue-green paint, I start below the foamy area and begin to paint around the smaller wave line. I then repeat the foamy area and paint up onto the sand area.

I make sure everything is dry and then go back with a damp brush and tickle the edges of the foamy area to soften some of the edges. I pull some of the paint into the white areas so they're not all the same value.

Next, I make adjustments to the wave areas. If you look at the base of the wave where the white water meets the blue, you'll see lots of very dark shadows in a dark blue. These shadows help to give form to the wave. I also take a very small amount of the blue mixed with water and begin to paint all kinds of random marks and squiggles to indicate the water frothing in the white of the wave. If needed, I add more dark areas along either side of the wave to give it more definition. I repeat with the smaller wave.

Last, using the same blue-green paint I used for the water, I paint a section of the sand to indicate where the sand got wet from a prior wave rolling up onto the shore.

After everything is good and dry, I take my white Uni-Ball Signo® pen and put in the white splashes around the waves and along the edges of the water line closest to the sand. If needed, I may add some of the white ink to the foamy areas.

Painting waves is lots of fun and very rewarding. I hope this helps you get started painting waves and I highly recommend going to the beach and sketching live! Meanwhile, I hope to see you at Keeton's!
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5 Creative Thought(s)

  1. I would love to be where I could see waves today. Nice tute...

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  2. I love this! Thank you so much for generously sharing your wave techniques! I've been wanting to learn how to paint an ocean scene like this ever since you posted this wonderful sketch back in December. I can't wait to give it a try. Thank you!

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  3. Dear Laure - what a wonderful tutorial. Your waves sketches are just excellent. So generous to share this information. Hope you have a super Sunday.

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  4. Thanks for this great tutorial, Laure. I live just a few miles from Lake Erie so (if it isn't frozen yet) I can practice the real thing, otherwise from photos I have. In addition I will be attending a bird sketching/painting workshop in Maine in July and as we will be on an island I will have loads of real world water to paint.Thanks so much. Have a great time at your workshop!!!

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  5. Hmmm.... Sorry to miss the class. Your waves look so inviting, maybe I can squeak out some time this weekend to try one of my own. Very appealing!

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