Step-by-Step Painting Demo: Big Wave

I did this painting of the “big wave” that is this month’s painting project (instructions here) not long after I took the photo, and wrote up notes to go with the photos, over a dozen years ago now. The painting is still on my wall, and Prussian blue is still my favourite blue. The way I approach a painting is pretty much the same, i.e. don’t overplan but be prepared to rework, but my favourite brush shape is now a flat rather than a filbert.

Before I put brush to canvas, I had been doing a lot of visualizing and planning in my head, following days spent observing and photographing the waves on a small stretch of coast at Storm’s River in South Africa, and painting some sea studies.

Establishing the Painting’s Composition

The first step, to establish the composition of the painting by putting down the basic shapes, lights and darks, was done using titanium white and phtalo turquoise only. (I was using acrylics.) Notice how even at this early stage I’m not applying the paint haphazardly, but in directions relevant to what I’m painting. I’m doing this because I know I’m going to be painting with glazes, which means that lower layers in the painting will show through. While I don’t know exactly how many layers or glazes I’ll be using, by painting “in the direction of growth” right from the start, I don’t have to worry about it. Once I had the basic composition sorted, I switched to Prussian blue to add darks in the background, and then foreground (Photo 2).

Adding Shadow to the Wave

Taking Prussian blue (which is a dark blue when used as squeezed from a paint tube and quite transparent when diluted with water or glazing medium) I painted in shadows that occur in front of a wave (Photo 3). The sea in front of the wave was to be fairly flat, but full of ripples and small bits of foam.

Next I painted a dark shadow at the base of the wave, pulling it up into the wave a little (Photo 4). I then used leftover paint on my brush to create shadows underneath where I would be painting the white foam created as the wave broke. The reason for using a brush with hardly any on paint on it was that this shadow wants to be thin and transparent, not solid colour.

Refining the Shadow on the Wave

I extended the dark shadow at the base of the wave quite significantly (compare Photo 5 with Photo 4), up the wave. I also darkened the tones on the top of the breaking crest of the wave, not just below it. This is so that when I paint the white foam later, there would be some shadow below it. Then I added some white to the top of the wave, reducing the shadow (Photo 6). Next I started to create a mid-tone between the dark shadow at the base of the wave and the light tone at the top by adding some cobalt teal to the front of the wave.

Adding White Foam to the Wave

Having established the fundamentals of the shadows on the wave, I now returned to titanium white to paint the foam on the edge of the wave. I started with the top ridge (Photo 7), before moving onto the breaking wave. The paint was applied by jerking the brush up and down, not pulling it along the canvas, using a worn filbert -shaped brush. The stiff bristles splay out a bit, producing a rough-edged paint mark, so it’s very useful for painting a feeling of foam.

Adding Floating Foam in the Foreground

Having got the wave painted to my satisfaction, I then started adding some floating foam to the foreground. At first this looks rather like bits of spaghetti (Photo 9) splattered on the painting. Once that was painted, I followed it with some thicker foam (Photo 10). But I was working on the floating foam, I decided the right-hand edge of the breaking wave was too uniform, and added some more foam to it.

Overdoing the Sea Foam

Titanium white is an opaque colour, covering up what’s underneath it very effectively when used thickly. So if you’re thinning it to use as a glaze, you need to either be cautious or willing to fix things if they go wrong. I got a bit carried away with adding the sea foam in the foreground (Photo 11), so now would have to work some colour back into it (Photo 12).

I also flicked some paint off my brush onto the canvas to create the effect of flying foam. But at least with this I showed some restraint, and didn’t overdo it! (If it’s not a technique you use regularly, I recommend practicing it before doing it ‘for real’ on your painting as you don’t want to get big blobs of paint, just a delicate spray.)

Working on the Foreground

I added some cobalt teal to the foreground, left it to dry, then painted over with some thin Prussian blue. As this is a paint colour that’s quite transparent when thin, it’s a good glazing colour. You can see (Photo 14) how it knocks back the excess foam I’d painted in the foreground without hiding it completely.

Working and Reworking

I don’t plan a painting from start to finish before I pick up my brush. Some paintings flow from beginning to end, and other paintings are a battle. Some paintings start off well then go downhill, and others start off badly and then soar. That’s just part of the challenge and enjoyment of the working method I use to paint.

I know that if I did a detailed sketch or study beforehand, and started with a detailed tonal underpainting, then I’d not work myself into situations where I’ve gone in a direction I hadn’t intended and have to work myself out. But I don’t like doing that, and the price to be paid is that sometimes parts of a painting need to be worked and reworked to get them right.

Which was the case with the foam foreground in this sea painting. I had multiple goes at it, each time not quite getting to where I wanted to be. So I’d reach again for the white, cobalt teal, or Prussian blue and work at it again. Persistence is crucial.

The Finished Wave Painting

As I reworked the foreground, it gradually became less foamy and more turbulent, with bigger ripples (Photo 17) than I’d originally visualized. What does this matter? Nothing, really; it’s my painting and I can let it be whatever I decide. Eventually I got the foreground to a stage I was content with, and decided to declare the painting finished (Photo 18). The multiple glazes or layers of paint in the foreground, put down as I battled with it, don’t show up individually, but they have created a wonderfully rich colour that comes only from glazing.

This painting still makes me smile and brings me joy; well worth the time I invested in it.

120.x160cm. Acrylic on canvas. 2007

Monday Motivator: Where They Were Left

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“I know the objects are where I left them. But they change with each viewing and always reward you with more looking—and most importantly, more thinking. Each time you stand before them, they expose something new—often because you’ve changed in the face of their endurance.”

Christine Coulson, As The Met Reopens, a Former Employee Longs For Its Art

The weather, the season, the time of day, our mood: these differences we tend to notice when revisiting a location. Less evident are the longer term changes to ourselves and how this impacts what we see and feel, and paint.

Monday Motivator: The Tyranny of the Vanishing Point

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“Have you ever thought about the cultural hegemony of the act of placing the vanishing point on your paper? There you are, drawing so as to solve a problem. You draw to think.

And then, plink. You place a vanishing point, or two, or even three, on your paper. And once you place the point(s), suddenly your entire drawing mindset changes.

With the vanishing point on the paper, suddenly now all lines need to radiate out from the point … you find yourself now working to “make it look right’.”

Kurt Ofer, Eliminate the Vanishing Point

Vanish the vanishing point.

Perspective in train track

Experiments with Seascapes on Wood Panel

How to turn a ‘happy accident’ into a technique so an effect can be used repeatedly and built upon, that’s one of my thoughts behind this painting. The context is a smaller painting I did in a quiet moment when staying with friends last week, when I was supposedly tidying up my paints for the day: using acrylics in a watercolour-like way on unprimed wood panel, with the colour of the wood the equivalent of the white of the paper in a watercolour.

15x15cm, acrylic on wood panel. Sold.

I was in two minds about the headland so have left it off this second painting, though I hear my friend’s “it gives context” comment as I think about it. I also changed used a bigger wood panel, to an A3 size (equivalent of two sheets of printer paper).

Part of me thinks I have overworked it and part says it’s underworked. I might add more white on it as it’s disappearing into the wood, as I did with the previous painting. I’m also pondering the direction of the woodgrain and whether I should have used this panel as landscape (horizontal) not portrait (vertical).

Hopefully fresh eyes tomorrow will decide it for me. All else fails, I use it as a panel for a painting with thicker paint.

Monday Motivator: The Role of the Scene vs Artist

Monday Motivator quote

“When I first started plein air, I relied very heavily on the scene doing all the heavy lifting in the painting. If the scene was boring, the painting was boring. I would walk and bike around all day with my heavy backpack and often not even find anything to paint.

But as I progressed, the role of the scene and the role of the artist started to switch places.”

Nicholas O’Leary, interview The Blue Review

When painting or sketching on location, do you choose the best spot for yourself or the painting? Do you spot a comfy-looking spot to sit first and then see what you might paint? Standing on a bank of pebbles may give you a better view, but will this be undermined by it not being stable underfoot and thus diverting some of your attention and energy?

I do a bit of both, depending on my mood and energy levels. The photo below was the day I chose a spot where I could sit whilst painting.

Monday Motivator: Finishing a Painting Isn’t the Best Part

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“I went and stayed with the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum in 2012 for 6 weeks. … I could see how much joy he got from painting something he was pleased with. I understood that for me to have any sort of satisfaction and longevity within painting I needed to get the joy of creation back that I had had as a child.

… painting wasn’t about any sort of brute force. It was an exploration. Watching paintings evolve on the canvas without any pre-planning work was difficult for me initially, but it was enjoyable. Finishing the painting wasn’t the best part any more. It was like finishing a good film, I just wanted it to keep going.”

Nicholas O’Leary, interview The Blue Review

Photo Gallery: Duntulm Bay Painting Project

Here’s the photo gallery for August’s painting project featuring Duntulm Bay. Definitely lots of fun being had with the various textures and greys in the scene, in mediums from ink to oils. Enjoy!

By Bayberry: ” I kept it to only watercolor and ink, which is harder for me.  I always want to fix it with acrylic.”

From Marion: It’s not easy to resist reaching for acrylics, and not easy to do without, when you’re accustomed to what opaque acrylics do! Overall I think you’ve captured the location, the various textures of the elements and the gentle colours of the day the reference photo was taken beautifully.
By Karen: “I really enjoyed doing it after a first attempt when I wasn’t captured by the subject and gave up. It’s not a scene I would choose to paint but once I got into the flow I really enjoyed it. It is a little darker than I would have liked, although this photo shows it darker than it is.

From Marion: This has depth, the sense of location, the 3D on the slabs of rock, the little gate subtly waiting to be noticed, different textures in the various areas, it’s fabulous! Acrylics do dry darker (watercolours dry lighter), so a painting can easily be darker than we intend. It’s something you learn to compensate for: some people do it as they colour mix (by using colours a bit lighter in tone) others by adjusting afterwards (what I tend to do).
By Katherine: “Usually when I attempt any painting it somehow ends up looking quite grey, so I thought this challenge would suit me perfectly. But I’ve used a new medium for me – Faber-Castell gelato crayons which feel a bit like wax crayons but are in fact watercolour so dissolve if water added. My 12 crayons we’re all bright colours and I’ve ended up with this. Worked into it a little afterwards with watercolour pencils.”

From Marion: Well, this certainly isn’t “quite grey” but a rich tapestry of intriguing colour! I like the different areas of tone and mark making, pulling my eye up into the blues of the sea and calm sky. Definitely a medium you should use again!
By Eddie: “I have strengthened the blue in the sky and muted the sea in response to your comments. The hard edge on the hill was because I wet the graphite and it was difficult to cover completely but I have tried. There was some green in the stones but it didn’t show well against the dark so I have strengthened it. Overall the tweaks have made the painting stronger.

Details from Eddie’s painting.

By Bee. Pastel.

From Marion: The combination of drawing (line) and painting (blocks of colour and blended colour) not only creates visual interest that intrigues and lures me in, but also an energy. Like different tempos in a piece of music, speeding up and slowing down. Lovely use of the texture of the paper as part of this.
By Bee, in oils: “This is my final version of Dutulm Shore, I like it but it is not really the same place , tho’ I guess it was the starting point.”

From Marion: A photo is always just a starting point never the end point. The gentle greys and browns pull me in for a closer look, into the smaller and smaller pebbles. Like the use of line drawing into the wet paint to give texture and form to the rocks.
By Mark: “I enjoyed this month’s challenge, and did three attempts.

From Marion: They’ve got an energy and freshness to them, and I’m hard pressed to pick a favourite.
By Mark
By Mark

Remember, it’s never too late to do any of the projects, there’s no closing date to them. Simply email me a photo of your painting and I’ll add it to the next photo gallery. All the painting projects are listed here. Individual help from me with your paintings is available to project subscribers through my Patreon page and it also has a community section for easy sharing and commenting on fellow subscribers’ paintings.

My paintings inspired by this month’s location:

By Marion Boddy-Evans. Mixed media (watercolour, acrylic, acrylic ink, oil pastel) on watercolour paper, A2 size
By Marion Boddy-Evans. Acrylic on wood panels. Diptych 30x15cm. SOLD.
Video of my creating this painting
By Marion Boddy-Evans. Oils. 30x30cm.
Video of this on my Patreon page for project subscribers here

My Art Workshops at Higham Hall

Expressive Skye at Higham Hall Day 1

There are still a couple of places open on both my November 2020 and March 2021 Capturing Skye workshops at Higham Hall. The one in November is limited to eight participants, and the one in March to ten.

While I imagine it’s going to feel a bit strange at first because of social distancing and face coverings, I’m sure we’ll get into the rhythm of it all quickly enough and settle into the fun to be had with paint. I’m really looking forward to it.

Info on Higham’s protocols for covid can be found on their website: “Please do not expect to see floor stickers or distancing signs all over the place, we credit our Highamites will some intelligence. You will, however, notice some sanitising stations (and our new, nifty, no-direct-touch water dispenser), some screens here and there, plus a few different layouts. Numbers on courses will be limited, we are only using bedrooms with private bathrooms, communal seating arrangements and some aspects of service will be sensibly controlled in line with guidance without crushing the ambiance.” Face coverings are also to be worn in company, and the tables/easels in the studio will be arranged to allow for social distancing.

If you’ve any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to email me or Higham.

And remember, you can ask Higham to go on the advance notice list for my November 2021 and April 2022 workshops.

Contact Higham Hall on 017687 76276,, through their website here, and download a copy of the latest workshops booklet here (or request a printed copy).

September’s Painting Project: Breaking Wave

This month’s painting project is about a moment, a wave starting to break as it reaches the shore, and working with a limited palette.

I took this photo at Tsitsikamma (Storm’s River) in South Africa in 2007, and still have the painting I did in acrylics from this on the wall. Thinking about this month’s project, I felt like a “dramatic wave” and looking through all my “big wave” photos, kept coming back to this one. That the photo is over a dozen years old is belied by the timelessness of the movement of the sea.

As always, the style, medium, size, and format are up to you. Think about it a bit, but also allow yourself to be led by impulse to see where it takes you.

I would reach for Prussian blue, pthalo turquoise and titanium white, and work with this limited palette. A chance to really get to know the personalities of these two blues, their transparency and what happens when mixed with white and with one another.

I would leave out the sliver of rocky shore (the rocks are angular and dark), and probably any suggestion of sky, to take the painting away from a wider landscape into a composition about the act of a wave breaking. Leaving out the lower band of crashing foam is another possibility, making the foreground all about the water stretching up into the crest of the wave.

Realism, but with the composition being about pattern and colour rather than location.
Expressive, with large gestural brushmarks and splatters.
Line and colour, using line to convey the movement and broad washes of colour across these.

Notice that there’s shadow cast by the wave on itself, and that as there’s less water in the wave (towards the top), it’s lighter as the light starts to shine through.

If you’d like to have your painting included in the project photo gallery, simply email me a photo with a few words about it by the end of the month (if it’s later, I’ll include it in the next project gallery I create). If you’d like to have feedback on your painting, or help whilst you’re working on it, this is available to project subscribers (link).

Happy painting! I look forward to seeing what you’re inspired to paint.

Monday Motivator: Delight

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator quote

“Delight, unlike pleasure, contains an element of surprise, an unexpected frisson. And delight, unlike pleasure, leaves no bitter aftertaste. You never saw the delight coming so you don’t miss it when it’s gone.

… Appreciating life’s small, fleeting pleasures demands a loose grip. Hold them too tightly and they break.”

Eric Weiner on Reading Sei Shōnagon

Anticipate and enjoy, like the moment before dandelion seeds fly on a puff of air.