Before attempting a seascape, it's always a good idea to consider what the painting will be about. If it's about the sea, devoting a large proportion of the composition to the sky or land, may detract from the subject, and weaken what the painting has to say. Other elements can contribute to the overall mood, and to the evocation of a place in time, but often, just a strip of sky and a fragment of cliff are enough. In this work by the master seascape painter, Frederick Judd Waugh, 90% of the image is nothing but water and foam, but there is still the impression of a specific place and time - the base of a cliff, perhaps at evening.
Focussing on just the bow of the ship, cutting the waves, gives a sense of the drama of sailing, and the power of the sea. The lines of the ship and horizon converge on the group of figures, creating a centre of interest.
Simplicity is power. A minimal composition consisting of a single breaker forming a white crescent at the centre of the image. This simplicity of composition is combined, however, with intricate and convincing detail.
This is one of the few scenes in this blog with a cloudless blue sky (seascape painters often prefer cloudy skies, perhaps to avoid a cliched postcard image. But this work is such an interesting composition that it runs no risk of looking cliched). The yellow hues in the sand and foreground boat complement the blue. Long shadows suggest late afternoon, and a mood of tranquillity.
Don't be afraid to use black in a seascape; what better to bring out areas of white foam and spray. When choosing to use black oil colour, there are several variations of black pigment to choose from, just as there are different whites.
Ivory Black is a deep velvety black that is cooler in mass tone, but warm in tint (slight brownish undertone). Lamp Black, a very old pigment dating back to prehistoric times, is also a deep, velvety black but has a bluish undertone. Mars Black is the strongest black and is warm in both mass tone and tint. Usually, for sea and sky, a cool, bluish black would be more suitable than a brownish black.
Many artists shy away from using black at all because it tends to "dirty" colour in mixing, and instead prefer to use a colour's complement to tint or shade. However, using black as a colour, you can avoid ‘dirtiness’ to some degree by taking note of the colour bias and tinting strength. This is where it becomes important to pay attention to the differences in different blacks and how to use them.
Many oil paint manufacturers also produce Indigo - a very dark blue - not as scary to use as black.
The swirls of foam have a wonderful abstract quality. A square format is often used to bring out the abstract element of an image. The speckled sand, and spray lifting off the breakers, may have been created by flicking the bristles of a brush loaded with oil paint diluted with turpentine or some other diluent.
An area of dark tone in the lower right corner balances a light tone in the upper left. In both works the horizon is placed roughly at the golden mean position.
Steamer on the Far Horizon, 1873
Henry Moore is one of the finest maritime painters in the history of British art, but in most of his paintings, you have to look pretty hard to find the boat. The diminutive scale of the boats adds to the impression of the sea's vastness and power. As his obituarist in The Times wrote, in 1895: “His delight was in the sea itself and in atmosphere…” He was a master painter of waves - so much so that there is no need for other elements such as coastlines, clouds or clearly visible shipping.
The cliffs in the distance are lighter in tone because the intervening atmosphere desaturates the tones of objects as they recede into the distance. Warm colours (lower frequency wavelengths of light) are lost first, therefore high frequency blue light is all that remains from the most distant objects. The area taken up by flat seawater is relatively small in these compositions. The cliffs have much more visual and psychological weight that a flat plane of water; if they occupy only one half of the composition, it can look unbalanced.
To paint the sea, you must love it, and to love it, you must know the sea. - Frederick Judd Waugh
About this Blog
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This blog is intended as a reference resource for seascape painters (particularly those working in oils) and for art lovers. It's a mix of nautical/maritime art, seascapes and coastal scenes, both old and new. The blog is of a non-profit, educational nature; however, if you are the owner of an image and would like it removed, please advise in a comment to the post. Add comments by clicking on the word 'comments' under a post.
Copyright of images of paintings on this blog are usually held by the artist or owner and are not generally in the public domain.
A large proportion of the artists are from the US simply because their work seems to be easier to find on the internet, and perhaps the genre is more popular there, but suggestions of famous painters from other countries (and for the blog in general) are welcome.
Apologies if a link to an artist's or gallery's website has been inadvertantly omitted. If you are interested in seeing more, or purchasing, work by any of the artists on this site, google their full name in inverted commas, with perhaps the word 'paintings' or 'artist' and it should take you to their site or the site of a gallery representing them.
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry