learn how to paint ocean and enjoy the ocean at home with your paintings

Learn how to paint ocean with a basic seascape painting. Enjoying the ocean with the crashing waves and smelling the salt air can be a mesmerizing experience.

Let's translate our ocean experiences to the artist's canvas.

Let's learn how to paint ocean, an oil seascape painting with the artist Carol MayLet's Do an Ocean Painting

painting an ocean is easy!

  • Put a line sketch on the canvas.
  • Block-in the colors of the sky, water and rocks.
  • Paint the shadow colors.
  • Then paint the sunlight colors.
  • Detail and finish your ocean painting.

before we start painting - what does the ocean look like?

Many of us have been to the ocean and seen its beauty and wonder. Let's look at a photo and see what we can learn about the ocean.

Photo of ocean colors by PixabayWhat color is the ocean?
  • The water distant water is a very dark blue. As we come toward the shore, the water starts to turn to a teal color. Closer to the shore the water is shallower and it turns green. When a wave rises up, it is a lighter yet because the light is passing thru the wave. The colors are an important part of how to paint ocean.
  • The base of the wave is darker because it is thicker and it is shadowed. You can see the dark base under the center of the wave where it is cresting. Also, notice the dark shadows under the foam where caps over the top or the wave.
  • The water in front of the wave is a lighter blue. Normally horizontal water will reflect the blue sky color. However, this water is neutralized by the sandy beach seen thru the transparent water. You can get a glimpse of the sand at the base of the center part of the wave.
  • See the glints of light on the right side of the ocean and the highlights on the right side of the clouds. So we know the light is coming from the right. Always determine the direction of the light before starting a painting. The light direction will affect your entire painting.
  • When we learn how to paint ocean, we will use this knowledge.

More about ocean waves


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let's do an ocean painting

Let's take what we have learned and do a basic seascape painting that includes a foam burst.

what do we use for this painting?

  • A Warm yellow
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue or Thalo Blue
  • Thalo Green or Viridian
  • Titanium White

This painting is done on a 'ad' 11x14 gallery wrap canvas.

Hog Hair brushes 'ad' are normally used to paint ocean.




how to paint ocean

  • Do some thumbnail size sketches about the size of a postcard to figure out your composition, values and how to paint your ocean.

When you have it figured out then -

  • Sketch your composition on the canvas with either a pencil or thinned paint.

Normally I use thinned yellow paint because it is easy to paint over. This time I used Ultramarine Blue, so it would show up better in the photograph.

Sketch a line drawing on your canvasSketch a line drawing on your canvas

first block-in your colors

  • Scrub the paint on in a thin layer that covers the canvas with the basic color of each item.

You will be blending the colors later or adding other colors on top of the blocked-in colors. If the blocked-in paint is too thick, it will just make a mess.

paint the background water

Mix your blue and green for a dark color to start painting at the horizon.

Use more green as you come forward. Add a bit of white as you come forward more.

Put a few streaks of darker green on the light green areas to indicate shadowed water.

Paint the background water with the ocean colors.Paint the background water with the ocean colors

block-in the wave

The wave will be darker at the base because the base is the thickest part of the wave.

Gradually lighten the wave towards the top by adding more white or a pale yellow.

Paint the spill-over with a lighter green because it is not very thick at all.

Use the same colors to block-in the waveUse the same colors to block-in the wave

Painting a wave is foundational for how to paint ocean.


paint the sky

Mix your blue with white. If it looks too blue add a tiny touch of Burnt Sienna to tone it down.

The light is coming from the left, so the sky is lighter on the left and darkens slightly to the right.

The sky gets lighter toward the horizon. Warm up the blue with a bit of green toward the horizon.

Paint a sunny day skyPaint a sunny day sky

shadow the clouds and foam

  • Mix a bit of blue and Alizarin with white to block in the shadow colors on the clouds and foam. If you prefer grey shadows, mix Ultramarine with Burnt Sienna and white.

Horizontal water reflects the sky colors. So, use the sky blues on the water in front of the wave.

When you are learning how to paint ocean, use your artistic license. Mix in some of the ocean colors for variety.

Block-in the shadow colors and horizontal waterBlock-in the shadow colors and horizontal water

block-in the rocks

  • Mix Burnt Sienna with your blue for the rock colors.

More blue makes the mix darker. Mix the color lighter or darker by varying the amount of blue.

The rocks will normally be darker down by the water where the get wet.

To help get the shape of the rocks, think of the rocks as a box with a top and sides.

Block-in the rocksBlock-in the rocks

block-in your sunlight colors

  • Mix a little yellow with white for your sunlight color.

Paint it where the sunlight would be striking.

The sun would be hitting the top of the clouds, the top of the foam areas and also some of the wavelets in the foreground water.

When you are learning how to paint ocean remember the direction of the sunlight. The sun is coming from the left.

Block-in your sunlight colorsBlock-in your sunlight colors


refine and finish your painting

  • The entire canvas is covered with the local colors of each item.

  • Now we will refine and detail the painting.


blend the shadow and sunlight colors

  • Using a clean, dry brush softly blend the sunlight and shadow colors together in the clouds and foam.

There will be a soft line between the shadows and the highlights, no hard lines.

When we paint ocean, there will be no hard lines because everything is moving.

Start refining the paintingStart refining the painting

paint the background waves

  • Use the sky color and pull your brush horizontally across the background water for the front edge of a few small waves.

When we learn how to paint ocean, remember aerial perspective will make them look closer together in the distance.

Then pull the sunlight color on in a few places. Put some darker water in front of the waves for their shadows.

Paint small waves in the background waterPaint small waves in the background water

highlight the rocks

  • Highlight the rocks with a mixture of Burnt Sienna mixed with either yellow or white or both.

The highlights in the shadow areas will be greyed by adding blue to the mixture.

Some of the shadowed areas may be very dark.

Splash a bit of shadowed foam against the base of the rocks.

Refine the rocksRefine the rocks

paint foam patterns on the wave

  • Refine the foam patterns on the wave.

Use the lavender or grey shadow color (your choice of color) and highlight the foam with sunlight in a few places.

Use a medium water color to paint a shadow under the foam that is capping over the top of the transparent wave.

Paint some foam patternsPaint some foam patterns

now you can paint ocean

The ocean is one of my favorite things and it's a fun challenge to paint.

Painting anything takes practice. The more you paint, the better your paintings will be.

Don't try to be perfect. Just paint and enjoy the journey.

Look for any final adjustments on your paintingLook for any final adjustments

give it a try - you know how to paint ocean!


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