How to paint a wave

in five easy steps

Join artist Carol May and learn how to paint a wave step by step in five easy steps for the beginner.

How to paint a wave in five easy steps with the painting artist Carol May

art paint supplies

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.

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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


Natural hog hair bristle brushes are great for seascapes. I personally don't find any use for brights. They don't seem to carry much paint. I prefer filbert or flat brushes. After using flats for a while their square edges wear off and make a filbert.

Flats leave brush stokes and filberts make a smoother painting. Its all a matter of preference. You may use synthetic brushes of your choice. However I don't find 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.


I normally use stretched canvas for my oil painting. Canvas boards are good to practice how to paint a wave.

Gessobords by Ampersand are also an excellent choice.

how to paint a wave

Normally I sketch an outline of the painting onto the canvas with yellow paint.

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

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.

Paint an outline of the wave on the canvas.Do an outline drawing onto 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 eye of wave unpainted.
  • Paint green on the top of the wave's spill-over area.
  • Leave the area just above the spill-over foam 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 the eye of the wave with yellow. Start at the top of the eye.
  • When you paint down the wave blend the yellow into the green.
  • Blend the yellow and green together so there is no definite line between them.
  • Paint the yellow onto the bottom part of the spill-over area.
  • Blend the yellow up into the green at the top of the spill-over.
  • Learning how to paint a wave is easy.

Paint the eye of the wave with yellow.Paint the eye of the wave.

step 3 - paint the base of the wave

  • Mix a little Burnt Sienna with your blue to make a dark colors.
  • More blue in the mixture will make a very dark color.
  • More Burnt Sienna in the mixture will make a brown.
  • Use the color you prefer.
  • Paint your dark color into the base of the wave.
  • Blend it up into the edge of the green.
  • Blend the colors together so there is 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 - soon.)

step 4 - Paint the background and the shadowed foam

  • Paint your choice of blue sky or water behind the top edge of the wave.
  • Use the same blue color to paint foam on areas in front of the wave.
  • Gradually blend the blue up into the dark area at the bottom of the wave.
  • Mix a tiny bit of blue with white for the shadow areas of the foam.
  • (Optional, add a bit Burnt Sienna to grey the blue, if you wish.)
  • Paint the shadow areas of the foam leaving the top of the foam unpainted.

Paint the background and foam shadows.Paint the background and foam shadows.

step 5 - paint the sunlit areas of 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 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.
  • Use the dark you mixed for the base of the wave and put a few shadow areas under the bottom edge of 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 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!

Now you know how to paint a wave in five easy steps.

Enjoy your painting!

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