July 22, 2015

The depicting of waves in watercolour is particularly challenging when one has decided on being a ‘purist’ by refraining from both opaque white and masking fluid.  Personally speaking, masking fluid has become so offensive in terms of smell (its natural thinner, in case anyone wonders, is ammonia, which is why it smells so awful–but a little ammonia will indeed thin thickened masking fluid, if stirred in slowly), and damaging brushes (even when dipping them in soapy water first), and causing the hardest of edges when removed, that it’s rarely a choice for me.  It does make for quite lovely snow squalls when flicked from a stiff toothbrush, I must say–and great fun, too.


‘Third Beach, Vancouver’, watercolour, painted on location, 35.5cm x 23cm (14″ x 9″), Arches Hot Press 140lb. Paper

Breaking waves challenge any student of watercolour (and every single person working in this medium will forever be a student) because of having to leave paper white for crest foam, swash, and the receding backwash effects.  This, coupled with understanding which part of the wave receives more or less pigment, not to mention the change of pigmentation if backwash is curling up and drawing in sand at the same time, comes the added realisation that sky is being reflected off top surfaces the further from shore one looks.

There truly is nothing for it but to get right into the actual physics of spilling, surging, plunging, and collapsing breakers, each of which exhibits its own characteristic properties–ones our eyes are very accustomed to and therefore recognize in a flash when viewing surf–properties a viewer expects to be reproduced in paintings (if the painting is trying to conform to the challenges of representational art, that is).  Drawing each of these examples over and over again makes wave action less of a mystery and eventually becomes familiar and far less challenging.  However, a single line of waves is always backed by more, multiplying the visual dynamics, adding to the confusion of having to depict row upon row of breakers.  Where does foam end and the gathering wave behind it start?  For this, it is very instructive to carefully observe photographs and again draw over and over how this actually does look.(  Only then, personally speaking, do I find painting on location not as daunting, for stopped action is easier to analyze than sitting in front of actual pounding surf.

Painting water is a dedicated pursuit all of its own.  There is a painting friend of mine who includes water in every single piece he does because he is dedicated to the depiction of water, whether in the form of rain, surf, river, lake, stream, waterfall, because in each case there is a lifetime’s worth of challenge.

22 Responses to “breakers”

  1. Amen! Thank you again for your guidance and this wonderful example you’ve posted. Lance, I may be crazy, but I am so determined to produce watercolor paintings that I’m really proud of (unlike most everything I’ve posted so far, lol). The art community is so kind and wonderful here, and you’re a bright light, with your encouragement and help along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘travelosopher’, imagination like yours requires no tricks or masks–and your work is just so wonderful, (I love the possums)


  3. Sharon, you inspire all of us through your site, and your great love for painting


  4. Lemony, your photographs are works of art times infinity. You have such a lovely lovely touch.


  5. wow, Laura, thank you very much for your enthusiasm and great kindness, and I do hope you enjoy depicting water (with watercolours, we’re halfway there, hahaha)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just lovely. I accept my edges because I’m never going to use mask, not because I’m any kind of purist but because I’m too lazy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful, serene… Such a lovely watercolour.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sharon Mann said

    Thank you for the inspiration Lance. I will be studying your beautiful painting as a learning exercise.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. PS: I admire the sky in this one as well. And I’d love to be like your friend, and include water of some kind in every painting. That’s how much it draws me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lance, thank you for your gracious instruction on this inspiring topic, and one, as you know, that is close to my heart at present. Your painting is wonderful; I particularly love the ever-present mist and the rocks, a surprising highlight of the painting for me. Thank you for the education and the inspiration. You’ve inspired me to begin sketching waves tonight! Why haven’t I already done this?! It’s crazy to think of painting something I’ve not even tried to draw. Again, thank you! I so appreciate your post. 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ….thank you Rebecca–and while I was doing this a baby seal pup washed up beside the boulders and caused a huge scene, with the Vancouver Aquarium staff coming to rescue it because its mother was nowhere in sight, and it is not a seal-frequented beach.


  12. Rebecca said

    Ah, the boulders and their reflection truly make this one for me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. ….barry, your simplicity/elegance of line replaces any need for paint.


  14. …thank you Andrew, for stopping in and for getting me off the dime and back to trying to depict a Venetian scene in the rain, which has me wringing my hands because I feel so out of my depth with it. your admiration helps alot.


  15. oh cynthia–the great tribute is that you went and started sketching waves yourself! aren’t they fascinating, tho? thank you for your (always) encouraging remarks….


  16. I love seeing your work. I never understood how hard it was to paint water.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This painting reminds me once again why watercolor is my favorite medium—the colors are subtle and close to nature and the rendering is masterful, Lance.

    I got sidetracked reading the link you suggested here….have been spilling,plunging, collapsing and surging pencil doodles in my notebook all morning! I didn’t realize there was so much physics to learn. But of course, in the end, you bring all that erudition to the seashore and allow mother nature to infuse your thoughts and hand. The painting is beautiful. I’m glad you’re a purist!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Stunning and successful. My watercolor knowledge is very limited and is one of many reasons that I learn from you.


  19. …thank you Teri! I really enjoy your work and your site very much.


  20. ….thank you so much ‘artbella’!


  21. Arts & Rhymes said

    That is a gorgeous painting!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Teri C said

    Wow, it’s gorgeous! And the breaking waves are perfect. You inspire me. I have tried painting waves and did a great job at failing.

    Liked by 1 person

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