7 tips for better seascape paintings

Seascapes 52: week 17

This week's Seascapes 52 shares 7 of my tried and tested tips for creating better seascapes. Things I've learnt from experimenting and the occasional happy accident.

These tips apply primarily to working with oil paint. They might work for other media too. But as oil is my preferred medium, I've not tried these out in other media to the extent that I can vouch for them.

Maybe, tomorrow, perhaps (2024)

Tip 1: Creating depth in the sky

You'll get a better sense of depth if your sky gets lighter and greyer towards the horizon. Clouds often stack up over the ocean, so sometimes these stacks can help create some depth (as shown above). Nevertheless, the wisdom in art theory that says things get duller as they get further away holds true. If my skies are more saturated towards the top of the canvas, more muted and light where they meet the ocean, I get a better sense of depth and space. I often start with much more extreme tonal panels and then knock these back as I build up layers.

Tip 2: The angle is important

The angle at which you apply paint is essential. This is one of the ways I am able to create a sense of movement in the sea. Each part of a wave will have its own movement. Use the direction in which you apply the paint to accentuate this intrinsic movement. Sometimes you can use direction to partially remove paint and accentuate movement in a more subtle way. The detail above shows some experimentation with this.

Tip 3: Don't be heavy-handed

One of the things I've struggled with is keeping the lightness of the crests of the waves. My love of texture and the tumultuous nature of crashing waves has led to a few fairly heavy-handed waves in my studio. I've learnt to be more subtle. Oil paint has substantial body. So it's important to apply it with very light gestures and not to have too much paint on a brush or palette knife if you're aiming to avoid a crusty sea. The detail above uses a pin to create movement with very small amounts of paint.

Tip 4; Let it dry

Seascapes are almost always better if you let the layers dry. Tipple is one exception in my collection. But, overall, the trick to good seascapes is allowing enough time for layers to dry. Sometimes, you want the layers to be almost dry but still have a bit of give for blending. At other times, you might need to let them dry fully so that the white crests of the waves don't pick up any of those blues. Most blues are quite feisty colours and will get in everywhere. So make sure they've dried well.

Tip 5: Dry brush those highlights and shadows

One of the best ways to create more depth is through accentuating shadows with a dry brush. The tiniest bit of paint can go a long way. Some of my fluffiest clouds are created through a dry brush and the tiniest smidge of white (or other highlight). The depths of the waves can come from building up the darker hues with a hint of green that dissolves as you dry brush it away (remembering the direction of movement). And there's always a strong shadow where the water meets the shore. So, some dry brush shadowing works well here too. Especially if you don't want your beach sand to lose its pristine sparkle.

Tip 6: Mix up the foam

One of the things I am experimenting with currently is fixing different shades of white and grey and sand for my waves. If the foam of the wave is all the same white, it won't be convincing. I've often added a bit of buff titanium to create the sense of sand in the foam. And I use a mix of whites (zinc, titanium, flake, warm ... etc.). But I'm currently on the hunt for ways to extend the tonal range of my whites. Watch this space.

Tip 7: Try new tools

A great way to capture movement is to incorporate different tools. I work with brushes, palette knives and a range of household gadgets. If you've watched some of my painting reels on Instagram, you might be familiar with the dressmaker's pin I often use to texturise my waves. I've also got some lovely fishing line that works well for a bit of "flossing". And a painter's edge from the hardware store can be very handy too.



Most of the seascapes in this blog can be found in my Land & Sea collection. If there's one you spot that you can't find there, pleaes get in touch. 

Thanks for reading. Hope you'll join me again next week for another dip into my Seascapes 52 reflections series. 

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