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Pastel Workshops - How to Paint The Ocean

Updated on February 27, 2019

Equipment Needed to Paint the Ocean with Pastels

Necessary equipment
Additional equipment
If desperate
Soft pastels such as Unison
stumps for blending
pastel paper preferably sanded
hard pencil HB to 4H
scrap pastel paper
Cloths for hand wiping
masking tape

Pastel Workshops - How to Paint the Ocean

Sea Spray
Sea Spray | Source

Compose Your Ocean Painting

Many people are wary of starting a painting of the ocean, fearing that water and waves are hard to capture. By following some basic rules about composition and the techniques given in this article, painting the ocean should be simple.

Choose Your Colour Palette

Before putting pencil to paper try out a variety of pastels on a piece of scrap paper. The colour of the sticks in the box is usually much paler than the pigment appears on the paper. Choose around five different colours ranging through greens and blues, but keep in reserve some deep reds or pinks and a white. For the rocks you will need a mid brown, one warm and one cool grey. Make sure your chosen colours also have a range of tones, or values, from very dark to very light.

The picture above has a green bias, so most of my chosen pastels were from the green/blue range.

Draw Your Ocean Picture

I'm the sort of artist who puts down very few pencil lines, I'd rather wade straight in with the painting, but when I teach pastel workshops, I advise my students to draw at least a few pencil lines to represent the key features in their painting, so that they have a more accurate representation to follow.

If you want to have spray in your painting, then it's a good idea to put rocks in your composition, so that the waves have something to crash against.

Don't forget that a straight horizon travelling all the way across your painting is very distracting to the eye, so by all means draw it in faintly, but when we come to paint, make sure that areas of the horizon are faded out.

Putting Pastel to Paper

Begin with the sky, as discussed in previous hubs, and be aware that the colours in your ocean painting need to be darker than those of the sky.

When tackling the ocean, use paler colours for the horizon and darker colours coming towards you. Waves toward the rear of the composition only really need to be suggested.

Don't forget to really push the colours into the tooth of the paper so that you can overpaint them.

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How to Draw a Breaking Wave

Use your darker tones towards the top of the wave, with paler tones toward the base. Blend the colours with your fingers, or a paper blending stump using sweeping strokes to indicate the direction that the wave is travelling in.

At the very base of the wave, the water will be churning, so you can scumble the pastels, using colours together. You could add a dark red in this mix too, to really make the blues and greens stand out. Red is a complementary colour for the green/blues of the sea.

Scumble your bright white pastel along the top of the wave to suggest the beginnings of breaking foam. However, don't go mad with this. Do a small section, or two at the broadest part of the wave, where you think it would naturally begin to break.

How to Draw Ocean Spray

Rub your white pastel on the spare sanded paper to create a flat edge, then sweep this edge horizontally upwards from the rocks and over the ocean you have already painted to create the idea of spray. Blend it in with your fingers using upward strokes to further suggest the direction of travel. Scumble the white pastel at the top of these strokes, to suggest foam. you can even add small dots of white here and there above the breaking wave to suggest flying foam.

Very gently add some of the pink pastel to the base of the surging foam, above the rocks, blending it in well to add interest and substance to the foam.

How to Draw Rocks

This really warrants a separate article, but very simply, choose a mid brown and cover the whole rock area, blending the pigment into the paper as much as possible.

Next scumble over this with a warm grey and a cool grey. Using a flat edge of pastel can create quite nice cracks and ledges. Do not blend these colours in. When you step back from your painting the underpainting showing through will create shadows and crevices. To further bed the rocks into the picture, chose a very dark pastel and add a few deep shadows at the base of the rock mound.

Finally, paint the standing water on the rocks, and the water that is pouring over them. Use vertical lines for the pouring water and for the standing water just a touch of the pastel tip is needed.

Remember, some of this water will be in the light and you will need the bright white, but much of the water will be in the shade and you should use a pale blue/grey.

Then all that you need to do is sign and frame your masterpiece. If you are not framing immediately, wrap your painting in an acid-free glassine.


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