Watercolour Seascapes


Dramatize your watercolour seascapes.

A5 watercolour: Dramatic sunset.

Have you ever noticed? That there isn’t many dramatic seascapes been painted in watercolours? By that I mean action seascapes, with tumultuous seas and huge waves pounding onto rocks and cliff faces?

It seems most watercolour artists paint passive seascapes with gentle horizontal waves rippling quietly towards the shore.

Why do you think that is?

Watercolour seascapes aren’t the easiest to paint. They are a different ball-game to painting landscapes. There are things to consider and how to go about it.

First of all you have to be observant:

You will find those artists who have lived down by the seaside paint the best seascapes. They paint with authenticity. Why because they took time out to really observe the sea under all conditions. That is:

  • How the waves roll in: What they look like in each stage, formation of their swell, peck, turn and tumble and scud up the beach.
  • Tonal differences: Where the light and dark tones are and how this affects the distinction and cognizance of shapes and forms within the painting.
  • Edge differences and variations: That is, under what conditions you’ll find blurred soft-edges and where sharper-edges are found along contours.
  • Direction of light and how it plays a big part in the composition: Whether the sun (or moon) is shining from the back or front of the wave? Where the shadows are falling, etc?
  • Weather conditions that affect the mood of the sea, tidal undercurrents, light conditions, change in the overall colours of the scene, etc.
  • Best composition format for seascapes: The use of oblique lines of action, wavy S-lines and choppy w-lines of motion.

Those are the basic observances of research. As we proceed through the blog series, we will discuss more and in-depth on this topic.

How do I know so much about painting exciting seascapes?

Well, I was born in Durban (Natal, South Africa) and lived near the sea and so naturally spent holidays playing and swimming down by the sea. And so I fall in love with the sea.

But as my artistic talent grew, I started to take more notice of how the sea is painted. It has been such an interesting and informative experience over the years.

“Why is that?” Like any talent, skill is learnt through frequent practical experience and in-depth research. The more you paint, the more you learn, that each composition has different format considerations, etc.

Painting trips:

Every time the family went on a picnic or on holiday, I would take time out to do location fieldwork, depending of cause on the circumstances, then I would only take photographs. Now with a tablet you can enlarge areas with your fingertips and see how the wave turns at its peak, etc.

Painting out on location can be a lot of fun. There are moments when the elements of the sea are so powerful and beautiful that its takes your breath away. So exhilarating and inspiring. Making you want to take out your brushes and paint right then and then.

And once you have been out doing location work a few times, you learn what to take with you and how to be prepared for every eventuality. In the case of painting the sea, it isn’t surprising you’ll have people watching you and if you sitting on a rock, you have to be constantly watching out for the next wave, etc. It’s like been on a thrilling adventure.

Putting action in your watercolour seascapes.

A5 watercolour: Receding seawater.

My personal preference:

I love dramatic action-packed seascapes. Those with stormy skies, huge waves, plenty spray and mist, etc. Any type of composition that has emotional impact, such as the one you see here, close-ups of seawater cascading over and receding from rocks, cliff-faces, etc.

Following the blog series: ‘Watercolour Seascapes Secrets

So with each blog I’ll take you on an adventure. What to do in each situation, how to be prepared, what to watch out for, and the theory behind painting the best watercolour seascapes you’ve ever done.