Posted in Coursework, Part 5

Cycle 4: The sea

Note: There has been some rework of this article since the Assignment 5 Tutorial. This has been highlighted in colour and dated.


Although this isn’t exact a new concept for drawing it is definitely one that is close to my heart. I’ve spent much of my life on and near the bodies of water. Early in life it was the Lakes of Cumbria and smaller bodies of water. Later this has expanded out to the sea, and threaded through all of this is running water in rivers and streams – with the inevitable water falls. For this cycle I’ve decided to focus on the sea.


The intent of this cycle is to:

  • Depict the sea in a way that conveys the character of the scene, rather than accurate depiction;
  • To match the style and media to the choice of the sea state;

In many ways this is picking off a major enquiry in its own right, and so the best I can hope for is one or two decent exemplars showing progress in the right direction.

Other Artist’s work

My recent visit to the National Gallery gave me plenty of examples of Oil painting that depict water in interesting ways:

Coming back to Egon Schiele the following is an good sample:

Segelschiff mit Spiegelungen from

Comparing the National Gallery images and the watercolour above illustrates the point about matching the media and style to the subject. The watercolour is much softer, and depicts the calm sailing scene well. The depiction of the stormy sea, however, works well in oils paints.

Maggi Hambling shows this well with her sea paintings:

Maggi Hambling, Wave Breaking (detail), March, 2007, oil on canvas from

Previous work

The scene from Cycle 1 would fit into this category, as would the work on the Neptune in Whitstable:

The Neptune image leaves a lot of scope for improvement, and clearly I would expect to develop from Cycle 1.

Blowing up a storm

Initial Experiments

I effectively started experimenting with this before I envisaged the cycle. In fact, I decided to do a cycle on the sea because I found myself wanting to experiment with drawing waves.

As shown in the last image, I was recently walking on a promenade next to Minnis Bay, a local beach, in the winter and decided that this experimentation should feed into an image of the occasion. The sea was choppy and mostly murky shades of green rather than blue. The sky was cloudy on the horizon, with some elements of blue, and the sea was choppy with the wind blowing spray off the top of the waves. All in all the feeling of the scene was elemental and a drawing needs to convey that.

To achieve this I have been experimenting with different media to what conveys the right feeling. It is the waves and spray that is going to be the key to successfully conveying the scene. The soft pastels convey the scene fairly well, but at A4 size their square cross section means that getting the feel of the spray of the waves is difficult. I could shift to conte sticks and pastel pencils, which work well together, or try to scale up the image and try again.

Section of Van Gogh fishing scene

Thinking again on the Van Gogh sea scene from Cycle 2, I thought it might be worth experimenting with the way that I approached the mark making to convey the feeling of the sea. This continues the brush pen and watercolour experiments above. This image seems to build on different shades of sepia ink and mark making to get its effect. This may provide a way forward.

I ended up experimenting with a soft pencil as well as with the watercolour. On reflection: In building waves you are effectively drawing a 3D form which is constantly moving and undulating. The form of the wave follows perspective and projection rules in the same way as a sheet or mountain and valley range. Thinking and drawing a single wave locally in this sort of scene is unlikely to be convincing. Going back to the stormy sea paintings above I can see that a drawing of this sort could underpin such a scene quite well.


I also decided to do a bit of research at this point and found some interesting articles:

  • How to draw a wave has some interesting observations on approach and wave structure. Intended for “comic book” approach, but worth a look.
  • Seascape Painting Tips For Beginners and How To Paint Realistic Water both have interesting content. In fact this site seems generally useful. One of the aspects that I like is that he links his articles to a range of other artist’s work , which is very interesting.

Further Experiments

On this basis I started other experiments, of which the following is one of my favourites:

You can see some evidence of the underlying structure and the line drawing that went to make up the image, but it was built up in pencil over a series of layers. Examining a photograph taken on the day mentioned above I realised that part of the image complexity was that there were waves travelling in two different directions meeting at this point and where the crests clashed in impressive ways.

From here I realised that one of the problems with the previous scene is that it wasn’t fundamentally exciting. I wondered how to make it more exciting and decided that bringing the viewpoint down to the level of the the waves would make the whole image more dramatic, but that took a bit of thinking through:

Conceptually I liked that idea, and the approach might work well in pastels (oil or soft). I also wondered how it might look using and ink and wash style, so I went of on a slight tangent:

Minnis Bay waves, A4 watercolour – Line and wash style

I like the result and wonder if it would be worth scaling up. I think A1 would probably be too big, but it might work at A2 with some more thinking and detail. I went back and had more of a look at “The Great Wave” in some detail as a comparative exercise:

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai from

I like the more jagged rendering of the wave spray in this image. The spray is also brought to life with the dots of white. It would be possible to get a similar feel using masking fluid, which would be worth trying.

Tankerton slopes, Acrylic on paper

Added 25/07/2019, after the Tutorial: As a development of this work I decided to try a painting of this idea. This is considered in a separate blog article. The wave patterns are, in many ways, derived from Maggi Hambling and Van Gogh’s approaches to dealing with painting the sea. The use of cross-contour lines to emphasise the wave forms has worked well in this context.

Tankerton slopes on a winter’s day, A2, Pastel

As a final experiment I decided to try a drawing straight from the original reference photograph, but attempting to reduce the use of local colour and keeping the colour and tone usage more subtle. To keep the tone on a lower key I used a grey toned paper as the base, rather than while. The result is interesting, and to my mind quite an improvement.

Calmer Times

As part of the cycle I’d also include a very different scene, with a serenity and beauty rather than elemental violence. I’ve selected a view of Tankerton Slopes. I was recently walking there as sun set approached, but the view was quite different from a normal Whitstable sunset. The sea was calm and sky was shades of blue, purple and pink. This was barely reflected from the sea, and was walking behind a set of beach huts.

In this case the key to communicating the feeling of the scene is subtle choice of colour, and the reflection of sky on sea. There is some need to use linear perspective on the beach huts, and to a lesser degree in the sky. I started with a quick sketch and some notes:

Tanketon Slopes sketch

Choice of media is likely to be important to the success of the drawing as a whole, but as a starter I tried an A4 graphite image:

Tankerton slopes, A4, graphite

There are many aspects of the image that work, with the main issue being the perspective on the huts needs more care. Some of the separation between elements still has a visible border, which needs more work. Lastly the image has smudged slightly in places, which doesn’t help the overall look. These would need to be corrected in moving towards a “finished” work, along with the appropriate application of colour.

It was at this point that I had a break for the Chania drawing during my holiday. On returning I completed an A4 Pastel version of the drawing:

Tankerton slopes, A4, Pastel

There are still significant issues if you know the original scene, but overall I’m happy with the sketch as a start point. It is somewhat flat, however, and feels quite bland. Thinking about it I decided this came partly from the uniformity of the tone and detail of the sea from near to far. There also needed to be some variation in value associated with the different planes on the huts. I applied another layer of pastel after fixing the original design:

Reworked Tanketon slopes sunset, A4, pastel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s