Wave Contours, Step-by-Step

posted in: Painting | 6

The undulations of the waves are made perceptible by the shadows and sea foam  floating  on the surface and, by the rocks that shape and interrupt that surface. Here is a step-by-step progression of two  wave paintings in oil. I show how I  simplify and distill the theme,  the palette, the underpainting, the photo that initiated my idea and, I  explain the tools and techniques I used to achieve the final versions. In the first example,  I use two blues, ultramarine ( Old Holland)and  azure blue(Sennelier), Imperial green(Charvin, similar to viridian), transparent red oxide, Quinacridone fuchsia (Charvin) and titanium white.

example 1, the two blues and imperial green( all translucent colors):  

example 2, the underpainting.

example 3. The first application of blues and greens. Darker more saturated color is deposited at the bottom of the picture.  I tilt the horizon to amplify the experience of the wave motion. I will use a serpentine design to wind your way back and across the picture.

example 4.  I  selectively delete the surface paint to reveal the orange below which  locates  the rock shapes. They will channel attention back toward the curved breaking wave. The wave is curved to direct attention further back and across the painting.

example 5. I blend in milky light blues to the water surface to suggest more light in specific areas. I deepen color on the bottom to create a dark threshold  to cross over into the painting. I add darkened texture to the rock shapes.

example 6.  The wave foam pattern is applied lightly with a 1/2 inch synthetic sable. Up to this point all paint has been applied with a two inch, synthetic sable, watercolor  wash brush.  I also now use a 1″ synthetic watercolor wash brush as well to find shadows in the waves  and to sharpen  the rocks’ edges.

example7. The painting so far after.

example 8. This is the photo used for the second example. Note that I will compress the composition to fit a square format, I will move the central rock to the right, I will imply larger submerged rocks which will build more of an opportunity to show waves folding over rocks. I will further foreshorten the flat pool at the bottom of the painting.  I will eliminate the highest wave explosion. It’s redundant.  I will create a stronger incline of flow into the foreground wave pool to create more depth in the painting.

example 9. Without an initial underpainting I begin by blocking in the darks. I also color test the relationship of the imperial green with the transparent red oxide.

example 10. I fill in the water area with a blue green field of color which shifts to a redder ultramarine blue at the top.

example 11.  I begin describing the contours of the wave shapes with white mixed with blue green. I divide the bristles of my brush so a single stroke will  leave multiple  traces .

example12. The painting so far. Here, highlights are further developed as are shadows within waves.


6 Responses

  1. elaine finsilver

    well…am planning to do a wave painting and your instructions are a beginning..but I need that fine David hand for the ending..

  2. Gail Ingis

    David, great post. Although I have seen you demo this time after time, it always amazes me how you paint those cool transparent blues and greens over your warm transparent red oxide yet the image maintains a clear, clean appearance.. I enjoy watching the progression from the under-painting with subsequent strokes to the buildup and finish. This is a fantastic study in water, waves and rocks. Thank you.

    • Connie Simmons

      Hi, Gail – I saw the great lecture that David is giving about The Roots of American Women Modernists with Georgia O’Keeffe at your Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum on Oct. 17th. Sounds fascinating! Congratulations!
      Best, Connie

  3. Connie Simmons

    I really love seeing these and the different results during the process. It is really helpful to see you do this! Thank you!

  4. gary r

    Interesting– the first two I perceived as an aerial sea scape.
    there are two sets of converging lines that are lighter, they start in the under=-painting and are still visible in the final painting. (The one on the right being more pronounced in the final painting.) Being they appear to be arbitrary; how to you decide when, where, and how many?

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