How to paint a wave

in five easy steps

beginners can paint an ocean wave - step-by-step

  • Learn how to paint a wave with oil paints.
How to paint a wave in five easy steps with the painting artist Carol May

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We will be doing this wave painting with oil paints. You could use much the same methods for acrylic.

Water is transparent, so it makes sense to use transparent colors if possible.

paint colors

  • Blue - Ultramarine Blue or Thalo Blue
  • Green - Viridian Green or Thalo Green
  • Yellow - Cad. Yellow Light or Winsor Yellow
  • Burnt Sienna
  • White - Titanium White
  • Optional - Dioxazine Purple


Flats or filbert brushes are the ideal choice. Flats leave brush strokes and filberts make a smoother painting. It's all a matter of preference.

You may use synthetic brushes of your choice. However sable or other soft brushes are not suitable for seascapes.

  • Use the size brush appropriate for the size of the canvas you will be using.


"Ad" Stretched canvas is the traditional choice for seascapes.

"Ad" Canvas boards are good to practice how to paint a wave.

"Ad" Gessobords by Ampersand are also an excellent choice.

how to paint a wave

  • Outline the areas of foam and the shape of the wave.

Also outline the eye of the wave and where the wave spills over.

  • The darker line at the base of the wave should be horizontal.

Normally I outline the painting on the canvas with yellow paint.

This time I used Ultramarine Blue, so it would show up in the photograph.

Paint an outline of the wave on the canvas.Do an outline drawing on the canvas.

step 1 - paint the wave face and the spill-over

This is a small canvas, so I used a #5 filbert hog bristle brush. 

  • Brush green onto the face of the wave.

Leave the foam and the eye of wave unpainted.

  • Paint green on the top of the spill-over.

Leave the bottom of the spill-over unpainted.

Use scrubbing strokes to scrub the paint on.

Don't be concerned about making the green smooth because we will be adding more paint later.

Paint the face of the wave green.Paint the face of the wave green.

step 2 - paint the eye of the wave

  • Paint yellow starting at the top of the eye of the wave.

As you paint down the eye blend the yellow into the green.

Blend them together so there is no definite line between the two colors.

  • Paint yellow on the bottom part of the spill-over area.

Blend the yellow up into the green at the top of the spill-over.

  • It's easy learning how to paint a wave!
Paint the eye of the wave with yellow.Paint the eye of the wave.

step 3 - paint the base of the wave

  • The base of the wave is in shadow.

Mix a little Burnt Sienna with your blue to make a dark color.

More blue in the mixture will make a very dark color. More Burnt Sienna will make the mixture warmer.

  • Paint your preferred dark color into the base of the wave.

Blend it up into the edge of the green.

There should be no definite line between the two colors.

Paint the dark color at the base of the wave.Paint the base of the wave.

When you know how waves are formed it helps you know how to paint a wave. The page that explains how waves are formed is in the works - coming soon.

step 4 - Paint the background and shadowed foam

  • Paint blue sky or water behind the wave.

Leave the top of foam and the spill over unpainted. We paint them in the next step.

  • Use the same blue color to paint the foam in the shadowed area of the wave.

Blend the blue foam up into the dark.

Mix a tiny bit of blue with white for the shadow area of the foam rolls.

  • Paint the foam roll shadows. Leave the top of the foam unpainted.
Paint the background and foam shadows.Paint the background and foam shadows.

Optional, you may add a bit Burnt Sienna to grey the blue shadowed foam or add a tiny bit of purple.

step 5 - complete the foam

Mix a little yellow with white for the sunlight areas of the foam.

  • Paint the top areas of the foam and the top edge of the spill-over area.

Softly blend the sunlight foam into the shadow foam areas.

  • Paint a few strokes of the warm white down over the spill-over area.

Use a clean, dry brush to make a few flicks up, as if the wind is catching the foam.

Paint the sunlight on the top of the foam. See how easy it is to paint a wave.Paint the sunlit foam.

  • Use the dark you mixed for the base of the wave and put a few shadow areas under the bottom edge of the foam curls.
  • Use the foam shadow color to paint some foam trails up the face of the wave.
  • Use your sunlight color to highlight a few areas on the water in front of the wave.

There you have it!

How to paint a wave with 5 easy steps.

Tutorial of five easy steps of painting a wave - art by Carol MayFive easy steps - Completed

enjoy your painting!

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