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Birth of a Wave

My newest self-challenge is to successfully render ocean waves. The color. The transparency. The motion. The wetness!

It begins with a value sketch. This is a blueprint for the main value shapes. It is far too easy to become focused on the details too early in the process. This sketch is right next to my easel so I can reference it along the way. I periodically compare my in-progress work to the sketch to see if I am maintaining the overall pattern of values.

Value Sketch with reference photo

There are many different approaches to beginning a pastel. For this one, I used a white charcoal pencil to block in the main shapes on a sanded paper. I like UART 400. It is gritty and grabs the pastel, but is not too rough, allowing detail later.

Block in of main shapes

The local color of each section is applied LIGHTLY. Since I will add the white foam later, I left those areas blank. The darker colors would just dirty the white at this stage.

Initial color block in

Using a stiff brush, I apply odorless mineral spirits (OMS) to each color section, starting with the lighter colors. This ‘melts’ the pastel into a watercolor-like wash, creating a base tone for each section.

Underpainting with OMS

After allowing the underpainting to dry, I reestablished the shape areas with a white charcoal pencil. Here I tried to make the shapes more accurate to my desired outcome.

Re-establishing the major shapes

Next, I begin adding soft pastel over the underpainting. At first, I may block in some areas of color throughout, but I will typically build the painting background to foreground. This is the stage that takes the most time, continually adding color, defining shapes, adjusting values. This is also the stage where I can become engrossed, so my in-progress photos show a big leap because I forgot to stop and photograph my progress!

Applying color with soft pastel

Near the end, I knew I needed to tweak the color of the sky a bit and soften the horizon. At this point I compared to my initial value sketch and realized the main area of foam (in the previous image) was a bit too centered in the composition. I used a stiff brush to wipe out the right side of the ‘splash’ and repainted the water before adding the splash a little more to the left. It is not a huge change, but it was important.

Almost done. after moving the large area of foam to the left

The finished piece, “Surf Study, Ocean City NJ” (The color difference you see is the difference between the cell phone photos in progress, and a well lit professional photo for the finished piece.)

"Surf Study, Ocean City, NJ"

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