watercolor ocean wave tutorial

Easy Ocean Watercolor Painting Tutorial

We’ve received a lot of requests to do a tutorial on ocean watercolor. There are many variations of how to paint the ocean in watercolor, so we figure we’d present a couple of different watercolor techniques for water subjects. 

Let’s strap up and get ready to paint!


Watercolor Supplies Needed for this Project:

  • #14 watercolor brush
  • 1-inch flat brush
  • #8 brush
  • Watercolor paints featuring mostly variations of blue
  • Masking tape
  • Watercolor paper
  • Watercolor palette

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
Click below to shop with a 30% discount.


Step-by-Step Process for Painting Ocean Watercolor 

In this tutorial, Dana takes us through how to paint ocean watercolor.


Step 1: Tape your workplace down

Once you’ve used painter’s tape or masking tape to hold your paper in place, you can move on to the next step. That was easy 🙂

 Ocean Watercolor: Brush with water

Step 2: Brush a light wash of blues onto wet paper

Using an indigo-like pigment, brush your already-dampened paper with a very, very lightly washed coating of blue.

Stroke horizontally in sections. Leave negative space between strokes as to seem like ripples in the water. Notice how light the desired color is below.

Feel free to use different tonal variations of indigo to compliment each other. You’ll notice the paper is slowly drying and your colors are bleeding less as you do this. That’s OK!

Ocean Watercolor: Coat lightly with blue pigment

Step 3: Coat again with water

Once you’ve finished your indigo layer, coat the whole paper with water using a 1-inch flat brush.


Step 4: Darken the ripples

You can mix in an ultra-marine blue to your indigo for a darker pigment to mix into your ripples. Don’t forget to leave some negative space to act as highlights on the water.

This is a slow process. Try to leave the middle of your paper lighter than the edges. You’ll see why later. 

Note: As you move further down the paper, the ripples should look larger than at the very top (further away) of your paper.

Ocean Watercolor: darken the ripples

Step 5: Define the watercolor waves

Use a #8 brush to define your waves. This will also require a darker pigment of indigo and softly bordering the different shades presented throughout your watercolor painting.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. We’ve found it’s easiest to use the tip of the brush and every-so-often press down on the belly of the brush to keep the waves from looking uniform. This will add a more natural effect to the ripples. 

Don’t worry, this takes some experience to accomplish. If yours doesn’t appear like Dana’s, no worries. Practice makes perfect!

Leave the top of the page fairly light. Even the ripples should be left alone as your painting moves closer to the horizon. This is important for depth! Notice, she has left the center of the paper still white for the sun’s reflection.

Ocean Watercolor: Define the watercolor waves

Step 6: Continue building layers

Be patient, continue laying layer after layer with more ripples. Try not copying Dana’s exactly; this is where the creativity of watercolor comes in! 

By now, you’re painting wet on dry and you want to focus with a deeper indigo pigment to shade some of the more concentrated areas. This is for darker details established in previous layers. 

Define, define, define!

If you have any completely white areas, now is the time to fill them with light, light washes; just to signify there is water. Although, we want to keep it very light to resemble the sun’s reflection on the watercolor waves.

Once you’ve finished with your indigo layers, it’s time to throw in some shades of turquoise. Do what feels right, there’s no set amount of turquoise you should add because the ocean is never just one color.

Ocean Watercolor: Define waves and reflections

Step 7: Add black shadowing

In this step, you’ll want to be fairly conservative. Mostly use a mix of lamp black and indigo to shade some of the darker areas even darker. This will be the area nearest the bottom of your paper if you have done the perspective correctly. 

The contrast of dark and light gives much of the painting’s dimension. But remember — less is always more!

As you get further up the paper, switch to a more defined indigo, and drop the lamp black. Remember, the darkest area of the page should be at the bottom.

Ocean Watercolor: Add black shadowing

Step 8: Add highlights

Mix a white gouache pigment with water and highlight some of the areas that make sense — this would be where we left the paper super light and crevices just above the really dark areas (to add more contrast).

Peel the tape and viola!

Ocean Watercolor: Finishing touches

Ocean Watercolor Waves and Fun!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below and we’ll try to respond before your paint dries 🙂

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
Click below to shop with a 30% discount.

About the Author: Watercolor Classes

Hello, and welcome to our site. We've been passionate about watercolor for years and have learned a lot along the way. We hope our tutorials and tips will help you out on your watercolor journey. Let's make art together!

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