Sketching the Sea: Looking at Waves

Often when I’m sketching the sea, I’m not aiming for a beautifully finished sketch, but rather at looking at one element and improving my observation of this. It’s easy with shore rocks, as they don’t move. (Though they might get hidden by the tide — I remember trying to find a square rock at the beach at Staffin I’d seen previously, only to realise on a subsequent visit that it requires a very low tide to be visible.)

Waves are constantly moving, so sketching one is a combination of memory of a specific wave (looking and then quickly drawing a section of it) and observation of the relentless march of waves that have similarities whilst being individual. Looking at how a swell curves as it heads to shore, how long across it is, where it first starts to break, how far up the beach it comes, how the water receding from the shore interacts with the next incoming wave, the ripples between waves, how much white foam there is, how close to the shore the final section breaks, the shape of the ridgeline of the wave before it breaks.

If I’ve included some rocks on a page, the lines I’ve drawn for waves are easier to interpret. But if they’re merely sections of waves, it all becomes rather cryptic if you look at them without any context — compare the right- and left-hand pages of these two spreads from my sketchbook.

Page from sketchbook with sketches of waves
Page from sketchbook with sketches of waves

Such sketches entirely for myself, and I rarely share photos of them because they’re not much to look at really. If you were paging through the sketchbook you would probably not stop at these pages. But when I’m looking through a sketchbook, it’s these types of pages that often reignite my inspiration the most.

Below is a photo of the sea on the day I did these sketches. I take lots of photos but it’s far more fun to sit by the seaside to than sketch from photos, and I’m lucky enough that I can.

One Reply to “Sketching the Sea: Looking at Waves”

  1. greetings marion, hoping this new year finds us with as many news?
    the first thing i recognized in your waves sketch was how they looked to me. like an ekg? screen monitoring heart rates. ocean waves, light waves, human hand waves…. peace.

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