Saturday, March 1, 2014

Color Palette For Painting Ocean Waves

 This post is by special request, and since I promised...

12 x 16 Oil on Panel
This one is a larger version of the 6 x 8 study
 The first thing I learned about painting the color of waves was that color is not even close to being the most difficult thing about painting them. For me, the most difficult thing about painting waves was that the values are so close together that just making something slightly too dark or too light can ruin the picture. Value, not color, was and still is, the most difficult thing to figure out when painting a wave. I painted several waves in black and white, from black and white photos, before moving on to color.

Two new 6 x 8 Wave Studies - Currently Available at Scottsdale Fine Art
 The most important thing I observed from walking on the beach, is that waves are grey. The easiest way to make grey, is black and white, All of the colors pictured below have black in them. All of my wave paintings have black in them. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "black deadens the painting, nature has no black in it, waves need to be painted in full color, YOU can't use black"...and on and on and on. Well, I use black, a lot of black, actually.  The first mixture on the list is straight Black and White. You don't have to use black if you have your head dead set against it. You can grey the colors with the opposites if you prefer. A touch of orange for example, greys the green and blue nicely, and I do that as well. Another great way to grey these colors is to use "Winsor & Newton Raw Umber Green Shade" - It is one of my favorite colors.

The below is a sample only. I do not mix these bands up every time I paint, nor do I use only these colors. It is just to give an idea of what I use.

8 x 10 Demo Available for purchase. Link at bottom of post.
#1. Straight Black and White.

#1a. This is straight black. I put this on the page to show that no wave painting I make ever comes close to going full black. They all stay very much on the light side of the spectrum.

#2 - White, Black, Pthalo Green, a touch of Pthalo Blue.

#3. In between these two color bands I do a lot of mixing.

#4. White, Black, Pthalo Blue, Diox Purple

#5. White, Black, Pthalo Green, a touch of Pthalo Blue, and Raw Sienna.

#6. White, Black, Pthalo Green, Raw Sienna

#6a. Pthalo Green and  Raw Sienna without Black in it. Look at the difference! Looks more like the color of grass than an ocean wave.

#7. White, Black, Pthalo Blue, and a touch of Pthalo Green. The opposite of mixture #2.

I do a lot of mixing in between the bands of color. It is impossible to tell someone exactly what color things in nature are because the change slightly so often. This is is just the basic colors I use, but by no means all of them. I would say, that I have mixed thousands of slight color variations in the time that I have been painting waves. I am thinking of doing another ebook on wave painting, and going into much more detail, but they do take quite a bit of time.

Below is a shot of me with some of the wave paintings. It is difficult to understand the sizes online so I posted a picture of myself in there to give a feeling for the size of the large one. I'm holding the painting pictured at the top and the study for it, also to give an idea of the sizes.

This one took a long time to post, hope you liked it...If anyone is interested in buying the color palette demo pictured above,, it is $100. plus shipping. It comes with a print of the sample painting as well. Click the Paypal link below.


  1. Great post, I admit always feeling a bit guilty when I do use black in my work. I can always hear all my college professors in my mind saying "don't use black" in my head. I still do, carefully, but no more carefully than any other color. Thanks for the last image, it really does help to see them all together with you to get a good idea of scale.

    1. Hi Jose,
      I think that depends on where you went to school and who the instructors were. I definitely remember hearing instructors in the Fine Art department saying not to use black, and most of them were just awful painters. In the Illustration department, it was used all of the time. One particular instructor would take certain colors, red, yellow, blue, and then mix them with black seven values, and then white seven values and re-tube each mixture...