My crashing waves look odd – please help
Gabriel Mann, Australia
The key to painting waves is to understand their shape and how the light affects them. First let’s consider their shape. The ocean is just one big mass of water, so all the waves are connected. I tend to think of a wavy sea as a mountain range: there are mountains and there are valleys, and all of them are connected to each other. A wavy mass of water has a similar shape
When painting the light in the scene, you should bear in mind that the water will reflect the light much like a mirror, but also enables the light to pass through it. The water will also reflect – at least partially – any surrounding colour (normally the sky’s colour). Because light passes through water, the highlights aren’t always on the surface. If sunlight is passing through the wave, you should paint a light inside the wave, with an intense colour such as blue or green, depending on the water’s colour. This will be different to the colours of the reflections of the sunlight or the sky.
If a wave is crashing, then you should paint sea foam and a big splash. Avoid soft and blurry brushes: instead, paint the main body of the foam with a hard, irregular brush. Be sure to paint highlights and shadows, and don’t paint it all white just because it’s supposed to be white. Then add the splash using a “splashy” brush: either create one or download a free one (search online for ‘water splash brushes’). Paint all over the sea foam.
To paint a wave crashing you should paint a big splash and a lot of foam. A little foam on the surrounding waves can look good, but be subtle.
Start with solid, basic shapes and observe how light affects surfaces. Just because water and foam aren’t hard elements doesn’t mean that you can skip that part.