Arty tip of the Month – How to create ‘Sea Spray’ when painting the ocean in watercolour (June 24)

Painting the ocean in watercolour can be a captivating and rewarding experience. The ever-changing nature of the sea offers endless inspiration, and one of the most delightful aspects to capture is the dynamic and ephemeral sea spray. Here, we’ll explore various techniques to create realistic and beautiful sea spray in your watercolour paintings.


Using Salt for Sparkly Spray Patterns

Salt can create a magical effect in watercolour paintings, perfect for depicting the glittering spray of ocean waves. While your wash is still damp, sprinkle a small amount of salt onto the painted area. As the paint dries, the salt crystals absorb the water and pigment, leaving behind unique, sparkly patterns. Once the paint is completely dry, gently brush off the salt to reveal the effect. This technique adds a touch of sparkle that can bring your ocean scene to life.


Splattering with Gouache

Gouache is an excellent medium for creating sea spray due to its opacity, which stands out well against the transparent watercolours. To create splashes with gouache, load a brush with white gouache paint and gently tap it over your painting. This will create a random pattern of droplets that mimic the look of sea spray. For a more haphazard approach, flick the loaded towards the painting. This creates droplets of paint with little tails, perfect for adding sea spray to foreground areas.


Using a Toothbrush for Fine Spray

For a finer, more controlled, and delicate spray, a toothbrush is an excellent tool. Load an old toothbrush with diluted white gouache and run your thumb across the bristles to flick tiny droplets onto your paper. This method produces a fine mist that beautifully replicates the subtle spray you often see above crashing waves or along the shoreline.


Dropping Water into a Damp Wash

Another effective technique involves manipulating the water on your paper. After applying a damp wash of your chosen ocean colours, use a dropper or brush to drop clean water into the wet paint. The water droplets will push the pigment away, creating lighter, irregular spots that look like sparkling sea spray. This method works best while the wash is still damp.


Combining Techniques

For the most realistic and dynamic sea spray, consider combining these techniques. Start with a base wash of ocean colours, then drop water into the damp wash to create a foundation of lighter areas. Once dry, use a toothbrush to add a fine mist of spray. Finally, enhance the effect with splatters of white gouache for bold, impactful spray, and finish with a touch of salt for added sparkle.


Final Tips

Experiment with Brush Sizes: Different brush sizes will produce varying droplet sizes, so experiment to find what works best for your scene.

Practice Control: While randomness is part of the charm of sea spray, practicing these techniques will help you control the effects more precisely.

Layering: Building up layers of spray using different techniques can add depth and realism to your painting.

Capturing the essence of sea spray in watercolour is a delightful challenge. By experimenting with splattering gouache, using a toothbrush, dropping water, and applying salt, you can create stunning, lifelike ocean scenes that sparkle with realism. Happy painting!


If you’ve liked my hints and tips this month and you’d like to learn more, why not take a look at my online courses