Wave Tutorial

It's been a long time since I wrote up a painting tutorial and the mood struck me this evening. The urge to paint a wave also struck me - so that means you're stuck with a tutorial on how to paint waves. Is it even worthwhile to write a painting tutorial about something so specific? Well I don't know, but I'm doing it anyway. Actually I've already done it - here it is!

Step 1 - Find a background image to paint on - sorry, there isn't really a set of steps to get to this point ;) You can check out my cloud tutorial though, if you wanted to work on a sky background. Bread and butter. Yin and yang. Nerds and Linux. Sky and ocean. It's just two of those things that go together.

Step 2 - Draw in your horizon line/water. Where? Uhh, I dunno - this isn't a perspective tutorial! (lucky for you, seeing as my perspective skills are seriously lacking)

Step 3 - Using a round, hard-edged brush rough out the shapes of your waves. I decided to do one cliche curling type of wave, and two splooshy waves crashing together. Yes, splooshy is a word - look it up. No, don't really look it up - keep working on your friggin' waves!

Step 4 - In this image I've just taken the liberty to add in arrows to sort of show the direction of movement happening here. You want your shading to follow this movement so make sure you sort of understand which way your water is going.

Step 5 - Using a darker color (still working with the hard-edged brush) start to add in some deeper shadows. There isn't a solid "shade this spot", "highlight that spot" method to follow since there are so many variables to consider for each image. Do make sure that your strokes are following the movement of the water though - if you go in the wrong direction you'll start to lose your form.

Step 6 - This is where it starts getting fun. With a lighter color - same round brush - start to follow the edge of the frothy bits making lots of dots. Keep the edges really jagged and organic looking. Keep brighter dots towards the very edge of the curl and slowly fade them back towards the smoother surface of the water.

Also at this point you can go in and highlight areas in the water. If the sun is coming in behind your wave you can get some really beautiful results with color here. Areas where the water is "thin" can be highlighted with very brilliant, saturated areas of color - whereas the deep areas are generally more dull in appearance.

Step 7 - This is where I swap brushes to save some time. At this point I'm using the "chalk" brush because it makes lots of small dots with one sweep, rather than me having to go in and manually do them one-by-one. Go along the edge of the froth and begin adding lots of misty spray stuffs.

Step 8 - Depending on how rough the water is, it may or may not have lots of foamy bits moving around the surface. They tend to have an almost web-like appearance, lots of roughly circular shapes connected by thin streams. Remember that they're also going to follow the direction of the water movement, and will subsequently stretch/shift with the motion of the water.

Step 9 - Last step! Go in and finalize any details. With a very fine brush paint tiny streaks of foam along the surface of the water. Add in more water mist/spray. I also opted to gently smudge some of the dots just a tad, so it had more of a feeling of movement. Fin :)