View Full Version : Sea spray in soft pastels?

10-25-2014, 03:01 PM
Does anyone have any tips on how to apply pastels for believable sea spray and crashing waves against rocks?

10-25-2014, 09:36 PM
Welcome back! It's wonderful to return to art, isn't it? Now that I'm retired, I can actually spend uninterrupted time painting. About your question, I painted a wave a few months ago and liked the effect I got by using a very light green near the crest of the wave and then sort of dotting on the sea spray with the softest white pastel I had, either a Sennelier or a Terry Ludwig white. The wave was a darker green/blue below the crest, with bits of seaweed and flotsam showing in the lighter, translucent upper portion. Hope this helps.

Barbara WC
10-25-2014, 11:45 PM
Do you ever look at the Pastel Studio and Gallery forum?

There is a search function- I'd try typing in words like "ocean" "wave" ,etc and see what comes up. Robert posted a terrific wave a couple of days ago...

10-26-2014, 05:29 AM
Thanks for the info Blayne, you describe pretty much exactly what I've been doing :) Barbara I did see Robert's wave and I agree it's very good, I would love to know any application tips people have for getting the appropriate textures. I've started a new wip thread anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the picture so far if you want to take a look?

10-27-2014, 09:11 AM
Wow, thanks for mentioning my wave. I'm seriosuly proud, it is the best wave I've ever done in my life. How I got that spray, I've got several tips.

1. Multicolor tints. I didn't use white in the spray at all except in one small area to accent the foam with a brightest area and draw attention. In that brightest area I had other colors down under it so it's still a tint, I just used it to lighten the mix. If you combine complementary tints and secondary tints to get a muted or mixed color it's more shimmering and natural. Grays and grayed colors and even greens will come out better if mixed.

2. Purple is a friend of green. Muted greens and blues make the brighter areas pop. I used some grayed greens and some complements to gray down some areas and I brought in a good bit of lavender in the spray to make the greens richer. Pink-green complements in the spray helped mute it and give added brightness instead of the pure value thing of monochrome foam.

3. Pay attention to the shapes and values. I did this one spontaneously and changed shapes but I already understood the anatomy of a wave from lots and lots of them. Before I got to the point I could do this, my first successful wave was when I chose a really good reference and then followed it absolutely right. That at least came out true. It's not just white foam. It looks white but shadowed areas could be mid value and not that far from the color of the water right next to them. It helps to put the photo in gray scale and maybe open it twice so you have a gray scale one to compare continuously.

4. Sketch it first to get the lines of it and do any composition changes like cropping. That separates the process of planning the paitning from paying attention to color and shape. You can work out the colors first separately and work out the values in a little notan by grouping them. That's where surprises like "wow a lot of foam is light gray instead of white" show up too. Last, thumbnailing composition is something I preach but don't practice... except when I face a difficult subject. It's a chance to try it in simpler form over and over, means I'm not distracted by "where is the big dark part and what's the overall shape of the foam?"

You will find on the thumbnails that you can get the foam looking true on the thumbnail if its general shape is right and its shadows are there to make it three dimensional. This is really important to good foam.

5. Look for patterns in it. You can move them around a bit but those patterns of foam on water are characteristic of waves. Sometimes there's a thin veil of it with holes in it that ranges from looking like lace to looking almost fishnet like where it's mostly holes as it trails off. Stringy little bits like a chunk of spiderweb surrounding oval spaces. Those occur on the surface of the wave around the foam and are what leftovers of old foam look like. They weren't in my current wave but were starting to form here and there on the dark part, or just breaking up.

6. Watch the placement of specks against darks or in the air, against any value that shows the tiny spatters. Less is more. A few of them can imply many if they're in the right place. That's where study the reference helps at first and then with a bunch of them you'll get a feel for where to put spatters. A few of them are like adding three or four white cat whiskers to show there's a couple dozen of them.


Spatter can be created by scraping a stick of pale tint over the painting where you want it and mashing it down into the painting with a palette knife or some other smooth flattener. Don't rub, just place the flattener over it and press to stick it to the painting.

I usually don't bother and just dot spatter in with rapid fire little taps of a tint, that's what I did on my good wave. That works too. I'm not controlling exact placement. I chose a general area and tap tap tap let myself hit fairly hard and fast and move so that I had some randomness and didn't create them in straight lines or geometric forms. Bounced around all over like stippling. I could do that because I've also got a lifetime of experience making pen stippling look smooth, even and random - the risk in tap-tap method is that you'll unconsciously make it regular and geometric instead of truly random.

Pay attention to the big forms first and do shadows before details.

I blocked it in with values in more or less the right colors with side strokes. These were broken color and looked cool on the sanded Uart right away, it made the left out foam look Uart beige but that was light enough to read true as a rough sketch. Big side strokes of a half stick that went directional and expressive for the foundation. Went over them with more side strokes building up the right colors and values.

Then started tilting the stick to get narrower loose strokes still directional, letting one side of it leave the paper. That looked good but bold like a Van Gogh. Directional side strokes on the foam overlapped the color of the wave and background and I swirled them to get more rounded cloudy foamy forms. On the top where sky reflections left a flatter surface with a few narrow long shadows, I used the side of the pastels and moved longwise to make long narrow strokes instead of tip strokes. That left a different effect. Try those strokes.

I detailed the foam with squiggles of tip strokes in various tints and kept alternating warm and cool especially more warm in the lit areas and more cools in the shadows reflecting up off the green-blue water. I leaned blue-green and aqua in the shadows, building up form three dimensionally in the foam. It's like painting clouds. Mixed muted light colors that shimmer because of complements and work lightly.

I did not blend any of it at all. I only blended by laying more color over it with the sticks. That kept the sparkle of uncrushed pastels to the whole thing and made it more lively.

Last ... I worked very fast without hesitating. Water moves. It's not as important to get it exactly precise as to get the sense of where the masses are, which area of water is moving which way and what the volume of foam is. Be precise in shapes in sketching in, but then get loose in the rendering.

On my good one I drastically changed some shapes to make a better composition beacuse the wave was very flat on top. However that wave has a good form and if you followed it exactly it'd be a good exercise, it was last week's WDE image and you can still post it late. Have a go! I got a good first wave when I planned it carefully in a sketch and painted close to the photo colors, the rest was all discovery on successive wave paintings.

Spray on rocks pay attention to the shapes in the photo and place it like that. Lots of sketches give an intuitive sense of how much there is.

I would suggest doing lots of small swift studies of waves to get the shapes and structures right. There are some good lessons on waves. Claudia Nice's by the seashore book is wonderful for that. But there's also a good lesson on wave anatomy and foam in the landscape book by Jack Hamm. I bought all of Jack Hamm's drawing books - they are dense and full of information and have thousands of examples to work from. Usually I use them by index, look up a jaguar in Animals or black hair in Portraits and waves and rocks in Scenery.

Titles are: Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm, Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm, How to Draw Animals by Jack Hamm and the one you want, Drawing Scenery, Landscapes and Seascapes. I bought those four and just found out on Amazon on author search he had some other titles available. They're extremely valuable references and not that expensive.

Jack Hamm's books are too dense and information packed to read through and expect to understand all of it at once. I skim read them and then use the index to find the one thing I want to do at the moment. Look up waves and it's a short but intense lesson on waves, which can help immediately and turn wave sketches and paintings into plausible ones.

There are many ways to render a wave and I could get realist on it with careful detail. I could have called it done at an early stage and left it all blocky with all side strokes and broken color giving an impression of spatter. It looked good at that stage. Then came the point where I knew doing anything more to it would wreck the good one, so I stopped.

I hope these tips helped. Try to find the scenery book at the library or pick it up at Amazon, it's all in black and white about drawing and will do a lot to help with composition and all landscape elements in their structure. I applied some of, a lot of the Johannes Vloothuis tricks in the painting in general but that I'd just suggest try one of his freebie demo classes and sign up for one of the inexpensive landscape classes. I think you can still buy past classes and he did one on water at North Light.

10-27-2014, 09:33 AM
Thanks so much for that Robert! I have copied for future reference, you are excellent at explaining techniques if you don't mind me saying! :) I have posted the wip of the piece in question here http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=20255861#post20255861 if you care to take a look?

10-27-2014, 03:08 PM
Maybe you can also look at this:
(wow :))

10-27-2014, 03:32 PM
I did Nick, wow, amazing spray and waves in that one!

10-27-2014, 07:44 PM
Abi, I did and said "You're done." The amount of wave spatter you have and the way it works is perfect for a background. It's like the three white whiskers on my cat. The lines are heavier so I don't put in the two dozen he has or you wouldn't see his black muzzle under them. They stand for lots more. The spatters show up very nicely and lead up toward the subject, being a pointer. What I said, and I mean it, is that you're very ready to put in the subject. Don't do one more thing to that background till the subject is in.

You may make some tweaks at the end when you see it in relation to the subject that improve it further but right now it's ready to get the subject.

Awesome background. ON future paintings remember there's no one right way to do it. Wave anatomy and foam spatter are at their most detailed in the focal area just as they would be if it was the main subject. They're not so less is more, people will see that spatter out of focus.

Nick, lovely sea painting you referenced! Very different soft edged approach to spatter and the wave shapes are fabulous. Love the foam sliding around on them and their irregularity. They are so three dimensional. Fine details are to scale. It's a big painting.

10-28-2014, 04:59 AM
The wave Nick posted looks like it has quite a bit of pure cool white.. but it's a cool painting over all. Stormy.

11-05-2014, 12:40 PM
I have found one more :)


11-05-2014, 02:47 PM
Good question.
I also like to learn how to paint Waves. It would be very fun. One consideration is about the light sunrise or sunset or strong sunshine. Some warmer light yellow can be nice I Think.

Good that you put links here. I will read them later. I will have to check Roberts wave to.