Creating Drama in Stormy Seascapes



Painting Loose

A few weeks ago I decided to paint stormy seas for a change- to loosen up my painting style.  I discovered that looser did not mean easier because creating a balanced composition with a story or visual concept that would appeal to the viewer is always challenging, whether realistic or using an impressionistic style of painting.  The illusion would still need the elements of balance and unity, as well as color harmony.  Brush strokes must suggest  shapes and forms, and colors must reflect value gradation and contrast in dark and light.  In addition, a center of focus or focal point is also necessary for a good piece of art work.

As you can see, there were a few adjustments made between the first and second photos above.  The first was incomplete with the boat sketched in using a drawing app.  The second is the final painting that added more contrast in values and the light aspect.

Using a Limited Palette

A limited palette can make seascapes less intimidating, e.g. I used a primary palette of 5 colors: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red medium, phthalo blue, and lamp black.  John Lisondra  uses a basic palette to show folks, especially beginning artists, that they can mix all the colors they need with 5 colors for still life, landscapes or seascapes.  I used this palette for the seascape below.  A tiny amount of yellow and red with blue and white were needed for the boat and yellow was mixed with the blue for blue green and yellow green in the water.  Also a teeny amount of yellow was used in the highlights.  So just put out tiny amounts of yellow and red on the palette.

Lessons Learned in Seascape Paintings

I’m working on NOT COVERING UP THE DARKS.   In the first blocking in of dark colors  and/or painting in of dark values, don’t be quick to cover them up or blend light colors over them.  The reason is because light colors will not stand out when there are no darks around or under them.  I am learning that there is a nice effect of streaking light over dark and leaving some dark exposed as I tried to do with the sail cloth on the boat.  It was too difficult to put back in dark paint over light colors, especially if painting wet on wet.  But if the paint is touch dry then dark paint can be brushed over with a synthetic brush since a bristle brush may bring up the light color beneath.

Related to this is OVERBLENDING.   This is another of my shortcomings to overcome.  I tend to want to overblend and realize later that what it was like before I painted over something looked better than my attempt to improve on it.  Maybe stepping back often to look at one’s work may eliminate some of the habit of  overblending.  An example is painting out the yellow greens by darkening that part of the wave, then having to put it back in.

Why Painting Seascapes Can Be Enjoyable

From looking at seascape tutorials though there aren’t that many on YouTube, I found that some folks start with a very sketchy sketch and will create their composition as they go along, using their imagination.  I saw artists changing their minds about their colors, painting over what they just painted, etc.  Funny thing is that some of them actually came out with pretty decent seascapes, i.e., they had an idea of what they wanted to paint and/or a photo reference, but through the process of playing with their paint, it was as though the painting painted itself.  (Not knowing what you are doing, but intuitively knowing what you want.).  It could be the way to paint seascapes or even landscapes that the effects and illusions will come when you have a willingness to experiment and allow the process to lead to the resulting outcome.  To illustrate this point, keep reading:

Skies and Ocean Waves are Changing All the Time

I did 3 seascapes in 3 weeks which included waiting time in between for my paintings to get touch dry so I could work on them.  I made them up mostly since I had no reference photo to follow, even the boats.  If it looked too complicated, I simplified it.  The parts were put together from different paintings I saw.  One painting was portrait  and the other two in landscape style; there were 3 different horizons, above or below the middle of the canvas, with 3 different stormy skies and 3 different wave patterns with choppy and turbulent ocean waves.

My husband taught me a lot about waves.  He is a retired meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and worked for the National Weather Service.  What I gathered is that waves can come in all shapes and forms, colors and sizes; length, breath, and height.  They can come from a long or short distance away also called long and short period waves.  The size and amount of energy in them depends on where they originated from and the strength of the wind that developed them.  Large swells often come from storms thousands of miles away producing huge waves to the delight of many  surfers and observers  all over the world.

What does this mean for an aspiring seascape artist like myself?  The sky is the limit, meant as a pun, is really true.  You can paint to your heart’s delight in creating cloudy, stormy, sunny day skies or deep sea paintings with small, big, or haphazard waves.  If you don’t have a dependable reference photo you like, you can make up your own painting, keeping in mind the art principles of unity and balance, color harmony and contrast of values, etc.  Use a limited palette and HAPPY PAINTING!

Don’t cover up the darks and don’t overblend’.