Painting Waves: A Watercolor Tutorial

Andrea England Painting Waves In Watercolor Tutorial

Painting Waves Title Card Andrea England Hi! I’m Andrea England, a watercolor artist living on a little yellow sailboat. Of course, I love painting the ocean. Creating waves in watercolor is very meditative, and I love the warm glow of sunset colors when I paint. I leave white ripples through my work which build up a feeling of movement and light in the water. People often ask me how I do it, so I’m sharing my techniques for World Watercolor Month – my favourite month of the year!  

This is a great activity to try with kids, whether you’re trying to paint what you see on a beach vacation or having fun at the kitchen table.

300gsm (140lb) watercolor paper is a great choice for this style of painting as it won’t buckle unless you use lots of water. If you’re using lighter weight paper, it’s best to stretch it first by wetting the whole sheet with clean water then taping it to a board with masking tape/decorator’s tape. Let it dry totally before you start the painting. I prefer a brush that snaps back to a point to get crisp lines, but this technique works with softer brushes too.

I leave very carefully-defined white lines between my shapes. However, you can let your marks touch and combine for a less fussy approach, or leave wider spaces if that’s more fun for you. Playing with this style will make it your own and you’ll come up with something unique and special!

Pencilling In The Shapes


This is an intuitive way of painting and works best if you don’t over-plan it. I pencil out the shape of the boat, a wavy horizon line and drew round a small cup to create the sun and its reflection. Try to curve the lines for the boat’s sails to give them a feeling of movement. Press gently so the lines won’t show up too much in the finished painting.

Adding Color!


I like to start off painting the sun so I can keep my yellows bright and clean. I use two pots of water, one for cleaning my brushes and one for wetting my pans of paint. I start off by painting a dot in my sun. I like it best if it’s a little wobbly and off-centre. I then paint curves round my sun until I’ve filled the space. I try not to paint over my pencil lines so I can erase them later.

Next I paint the sun’s reflection. I fill in the circle by painting ripples. I let some of my lines to go outside the circle so it looks like the water is moving.

I then choose a more orange yellow and paint round the outside of my circle. I paint bigger areas as I fill in the sky and use smaller ripply lines for the water. I try to keep my lines flowing in the same direction.

As I paint farther from the sun, I add warm red to my mix. I start a new mix when its time to add the cooler red as I don’t want my colors to get muddy.

 I keep filling in the sky with large areas of paint then paint the ripples below. I added some ultramarine to my crimson to create a purple, then used some pure ultramarine to fill the last spaces.

I decided to leave my boat white, but if you wanted you could use pale grey to add some shading, or you could make the boat a black silhouette in marker, paint, crayon or collage. Very young children might find this easier than painting in around the boat. 

Taking It Further

How could you alter your color choices to create a sunny day, a starry night or a moody storm? Does the size of the marks you make alter the feel of the water? What if you let some of the colored spaces touch or overlap whilst wet, or glazed over with a slightly different color when your paint has dried? How does the effect change if you don’t leave any white spaces, but add white lines with gouache or gel pen later? How about drawing the lines in first with white crayon, oil pastel or frisket? What if you make the lines black or blue? Could you use different kinds of boats or sea creatures? How about bringing in some collage shapes for your silhouettes?

Instead of a wavy line, use a ruler to draw a straight line for your horizon. Add a city skyline in black over your sky using paint or marker, then create reflections by painting some of your ripples black (leave the white lines to be a reflection). What other landscapes could you create- African savannas? Mountain ranges? Alien worlds?

What if you make the lines vertical instead of horizontal? What could they be? Could you use this technique to create grass and vegetation?

I used Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors and Van Gogh watercolors for this painting. They are my favorite student-quality paints as they mix cleanly and don’t contain chalky fillers.

(Andrea England is a World Watercolor Month 2019 Artist Ambassador! Click Here to Read Andrea’s Artist Feature on Doodlewash!

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials
  1. Sandra Strait 4 years ago

    Wow! Andrea, I love this technique. I can see that this could be a relaxing method too, as painting non-objective shapes can be mesmerizing. I’ll have to give this a try!

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      Thank you Sandra! For my brain at least, it’s the perfect balance between abstraction and needing to paint something that looks like a thing! I find painting the waves especially hypnotic (a bit like watching water in real life)

  2. Ellie 4 years ago

    I love your style, Andrea, and I’m delighted to have a tutorial! Thank you so much!!

  3. susiemeg 4 years ago

    I love this! Thank you! I’ve been intrigued by this style — leaving white margins around objects– when I’ve seen it in others’ work. I don’t think I’ve seen background done this way and really like the effect. Thank you!

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the tutorial is helpful!

  4. Karen Fortier 4 years ago


  5. Mary Roff 4 years ago


  6. Kris Carte 4 years ago

    Andrea, thank you! Your art is beautiful and your explanations are superb.

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      Thank you so much Kris! I’m glad it’s useful and appreciate your support!

  7. Lisa Ann Ulibarri 4 years ago

    Fun and whimsical thank you so much 🙂

  8. Annie Glacken 4 years ago

    This is so cheerful! I can see how meditative this painting process would be.

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      I find I really get into the flow as I paint the waves- it’s a great mental refresh!

  9. Zertab Quaderi 4 years ago


  10. Sujit kumar datta 4 years ago

    Excellent your painting and demonstration

  11. marmeladegypsy 4 years ago

    I like this very much, Andrea. The finished product is beautiful and the technique sounds fun.

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      Thank you! I really enjoy working this way- it’s a bit different and I find it meditative!

  12. LoriCtoo 4 years ago

    This is fun way to go about painting! I just might have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      Thank you- I hope you find it inspiring! Happy painting!

  13. Anita Sinha 4 years ago

    Very interesting style. I will love to try this and then teach my daughter also. Thanks, Andrea!

  14. Anju 4 years ago

    Hi …..Water colouring is always challenging for me.But your technique is awesome.

    • Author
      Andrea England 4 years ago

      I hope you find it helpful, Anju! Watercolours definitely take practice, but they’re so worth while!

  15. Carol Lee Parry 4 years ago

    thx for sharing

Leave Me A Comment!

©2015-2023 Doodlewash®  Privacy Policy | Terms Of Use | Disclosure  Powered By


Want to say hi and connect? Do you make lovely things with watercolor and want to be featured in the next Guest Artist post?! Great! Not sure, just feel the need to say something? Awesome! Just fill out the form below!


Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?


Create Account

%d bloggers like this: