Best Painting Technique for Ocean Waves

by | Jun 28, 2020 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

Painting Waves

To paint the waves in my waterscapes, I use three different painting techniques – and sometimes all three are included in the same painting! These are also the same techniques I use, with slight variations, to paint those fluffy white clouds in my skies.

My favorite technique is one that I invented and is quite unusual. Here are steps to learn that special technique I use to create my painted waves. Even though I am using acrylic paint in the description, you can use other mediums in the same way. By the way, the other two painting techniques I also like and use frequently can be found here.

gold leaf painting by Nancy Reyner with ocean waves and sky clouds
Nancy Reyner, Sky Mountain, acrylic and gold leaf on panel, 16″ x 12″
painting ocean waves and sky clouds with acrylic painting techniques
Nancy Reyner, Indigo Shore, acrylic on panel, 45″ x 36″

My Favorite Technique for Painting Waves

The following steps for this technique combine a glazing method with a sanding method, and use multiple layers repeating these two methods several times. It is a great way to create white clouds in a blue sky as well as white wave caps in blue water.


How to paint waves and clouds with acrylic paint
Step 1. Use fluid acrylic paint colors: Phthalo Blue (green shade), Prussian Blue and Titanium White. If using heavy body paints add up to 20% water to keep texture and brushstrokes to a minimum. Mix each of these colors separately with a slow drying medium. You can also make a combination mixture of all three colors, also mixed with a slow drying medium. If you don’t have a slow drying medium, add some retarder into the colors instead. I like to use Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss for my slow drying medium.
Apply any of these mixtures onto your painting surface to create an underpainting. Paint them using brushes, knives, or rags to create a variety of applications. You want to have a range of values (light blues and dark blues). This will give you a blue basecoat, which will eventually be a base for your sky at the top, and as water at the bottom, or wherever you eventually want clouds or waves in your painting. For water, vary the values but keep to dark and middle value tones. Avoid light blues, as a dark blue background will show off the white waves added later. Let this first blue layer dry. For a sky stick to light and middle value blues.
Step 2. After the first layer has dried, knife apply your slow drying clear acrylic medium, by itself with no paint color added, over the area where you want to apply waves or clouds. While the medium is still wet, add Titanium White fluid paint onto your knife, and swipe the white paint into the wet medium using swirling motions. While the medium and paint are both still wet use the knife to scrape back some areas, removing some of the white paint and medium, to reveal the blue underpainting so it will show through in places. Also while all is still wet, take a dry flat brush and lightly wipe the white paint into upward lines. Let this second layer dry for a day, or more until no longer tacky.
How to paint waves and clouds with acrylic paint
How to paint waves and clouds with acrylic paint
Step 3. Spray the dry painted surface with water and using 220 grit waterproof sandpaper, sand off some of the dried white paint from the previous layer. Respray the sanded area frequently with water, and wipe off the excess sanded paint with a rag or paper towel.
Step 4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3, using whatever colors your painting needs. If it needs more darks, use black or a dark blue. If it is too white use blue paint. Once you apply the paint color, let it dry and make sure to repeat the sanding step. Repeat these steps as many times as is needed to get the results you want.
How to paint waves and clouds with acrylic paint

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  1. Barbara

    Love your work. Always looking for fresh new ideas

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Barbara! I’m glad to you are finding the article inspiring.

  2. Jeannie Murdoch

    Wonderful to read and learn your technique, makes me thirsty for more knowledge..absolutely love your work..and ideas..🤗

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Jeannie, Thank you very much for taking the time to add your comment. I’m glad this article adds to your creative inspiration! Thank you for your kind words. Blessings and all good wishes,

  3. debrah

    wonderful! can’t wait to try this technique

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Debrah, Love to hear that!! Thank you for your comment.

  4. Veronica Veloso

    🤩 wow wow 🙇🏻‍♀️🙇🏻‍♀️🙇🏻‍♀️ ♥️♥️♥️ thank you for sharing your secrets.. have bought your books through Amazon and love every page. I live across the globe and been wishing to take lessons in Arizona when the air is clear🙏🙏🙏

    • Nancy Reyner

      Dear Veronica,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so glad you found my books helpful. I’d be happy to arrange a class with you. I am no longer teaching in Arizona, but am happy to teach from my studio in Santa Fe, NM. Blessings and warm wishes,

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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner created this blog about art, painting and creativity from her career of over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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