541.787.4395 (Pacific Time Zone) kristen@kristenoneillart.com

Painting Believable Waves – Color and Values

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

Achieving realistic color and values can go a long way to painting anything. With ocean waves, we also have to make sure that we are following the rules of how nature works to create a believable wave.

Believable Waves – Values #1

The deepest part of the ocean in your painting is going to be the darkest value. The water becomes lighter and more clear as it becomes more shallow. And, as you see through a wave, the sunlight is coming through the thickness of the wave, making it lighter in different parts of the C-curve shape. (To learn more about the shape of a wave, visit this post).

Above in the red circle we see the darkest value. The spot where the ocean is deepest, therefore is trapping more light waves. 

The blue circle is where we can see through the water the most. Here it is the thinnest, allowing the most light through. This is the lightest value of the colorful water. The lightest values are the “white water” and foam parts.

The yellow circle is  middle value of the colorful water. There is light in the wave, so it is darker than the red circled part. It is darker that the blue circle part. 

Believable Waves – Values #2

Here we are going to look at nearly the exact opposite. Say what?! Okay, stay with me. Let’s take a look together. 

This wave is doing something different. First off, the red circle. Here the value is very light. How come? It is reflecting a brighter sky. The light, lilac color, is a reflection of the sky. The ripples are a darker blue. In the foreground, the lilac color returns in the reflection. 

The yellow circle has a mid value, like before. The color is determined by the sand underneath – more on that soon. 

The blue circle is darker value. We could argue that the blue circle value isn’t darker than the ripples in the red circle. It can be hard to tell. But here, the most important part is to think of the thickness of the wave. In the yellow circle, the water is shallow. As the wave rises up, it is because water is pushing the wave forward. And we are looking into the wave, into the thickness of the water. 

Overall, all of the values in example #2 are HIGH KEY. This means they are are closer to white in value, then black in value. 

Wave Colors – Example #1

The deep ocean is going to be the darkest value, as we just covered, but it is also going be the color that sets off your color plan. As you see through a wave, sometimes it becomes more yellow. (The sunlight is coming through the thickness of the wave.)

Returning to the first photo example:

The red circle is a dark value and a blue-green hue. As we add yellow to this color, we get the color in the yellow circle. The blue circle is more light than yellow. This particular hue can be made with a phthalo green (yellow shade) and a white. 

Wave Colors – Example #2

As mentioned above, the red circle is very light in value, and lilac-feeling hue. (Pinkish purple). Using a magenta, or violet red, and a purple, mixed with white, you can get this color. The yellow circle is quite different. Here we have the tans of the sand showing though the water. Mix browns that are mostly to the yellow side. Add a touch of a turquoise, and you can achieve this. 


Try it Out


Example #1 Recommendations:

Ultramarine Blue or Anthraquinone Blue

Phthalo Green (either Blue shade or Yellow Shade)

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Titanium White

Example #2 Recommendations:


Dioxzaine Purple

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Phthalo Blue or a Turquoise

Titanium White

Zinc White (may cause cracking in oil paints)

Have you tried to mix these colors? What did you find? Please feel free to comment below the blog!