Paint a Realistic Wave with Acrylics

Table of Contents:

How to Paint Waves in Acrylic

If you’re new to acrylics or have yearned to paint beautiful ocean waves crashing on a beach, you’re in for a treat. Watching this short video on how to paint waves at the end of the blog will help you get inspired and get started. We’ve also added this useful step-by-step guide to go along with the video. Using colors from the Arteza Metallic Acrylic Artist Paint Set in 36 Colors, you’ll be mesmerized as you watch the artist paint water with acrylics. She’ll show you how she goes from a light sketch to a beautiful wave full of reflections and watery depth.

List of Supplies

We suggest you read the instructions first, then watch the video to be fully prepared to try and create your own version.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Waves

Step 1. Sketch a wave.

You will be painting on canvas. Use a premium #2HB pencil to make a light sketch of the large curve of the wave, leaving an oblong space in the middle (If you were painting a big wave, this space would be larger). After you draw a wave, outline the larger area, but don’t add too much detailing (erase as needed).

Step 2. Set up your palette.

Squeeze the paint in small amounts along one edge of the palette to leave yourself enough room for color mixing.

Step 3. Work “from general to specific."

When learning how to paint waves with acrylic paint, it’s important to use the “general to specific” rule. This means that you start painting the general or undefined areas with the large brush and will gradually work your way to painting the more specific details with a small brush.

As you will see when you watch the video, you’ll begin by painting the canvas with light colors, constantly mixing the blue (Pearl Sky Blue), yellow (Yellow Pale), green (Pearl Olive Green) and purple (Pearl Royal Purple) with white (Pearl White) acrylic paint. Notice how beginning this way to paint in the water in the center with yellow acrylics gives the effect of light shining through the wave.

You will use Pearl Royal Purple on the bottom of the wave, while on the upper area of the wave use the cool colors: the Pearl Sky Blue used previously as well as a darker blue (Pearl Electric Blue), Pearl Olive Green, and a combination of the metallic Pearl Electric Blue paint and nonmetallic paint, Yellow Pale, to form the color of realistic water. This is the body of the wave as it rises up and curves over.

Alternate with the large and small flat brushes in varying stroke lengths to give the wave the feeling of being in motion.

In the upper left corner use a stippling technique by poking the brush with paint onto the canvas. This imitates the specific spray of ocean water that the wave creates when it is crashing over itself.

At this stage the entire canvas surface is covered, leaving no blank spaces.

Step 4. Use the glazing technique.

Now it’s time to paint the waves in with rich acrylic colors by gradually applying layers of paint in a technique referred to as glazing. You will do this by using each color without adding large amounts of white acrylic.

On the bottom of the wave you will use dark colors, adding warm purple shades (warm shades move objects toward the viewer). After that, gradually move to the top of the wave, applying green and yellow colors with a touch of cool blue shades (cool shades move objects away from the viewer). This creates what is known as atmospheric perspective, which is also used in landscape painting to expand the space within the picture.

Step 5. Gradually go into detailing.

The primary focal point of the wave is its center. To move the viewer’s attention to it you will create contrast between the tones of the colors. These gradually go on with a smaller brush. Apply bright saturated colors with the small round brush by combining light and dark colors, such as the Pearl White with the Pearl Electric Blue and Pearl Olive Green. Transitions between these colors should be sharp, without any blurring.

Step 6. Use a palette knife to add volume.

A palette knife is the perfect tool for creating volume to the seafoam. The paint is applied using the impasto method — thick paint with large strokes. Since seafoam has shadows, they should be drawn in to create depth.

Use the round brush to add strokes of color, following the direction of the wave curl. To make the water appear more lively and realistic use rounded strokes.

Continue to deepen the shadows under the foam to add more volume, space, and depth to the wave. The edge of the palette knife can be used for detailing the sea foam on the wave.

Step 7. Highlight with white.

You can enhance the metallic attributes of the Pearl White splash and foam by overlapping it with traditional white acrylic paint. By using the same dabbing or stippling technique you used in the upper left corner, the wave will look more and more realistic.

You can also add droplets of water for the most realistic spray by employing the splatter paint technique. To do this: first, protect the area around your painting by placing paper around your work. Next, fill a paintbrush with paint that’s been highly diluted with water. Then, holding the brush vertically, tap the top of it with another brush to splatter the paint onto the canvas. This simple technique creates irregular and uneven drops that will add the effect of water droplets that come from ocean waves when they are breaking on the beach.

Step 8. Add the finishing details.

As the final step, work on the foreground details with the small brush. It’s important to pay more attention to the foreground at this stage because the areas with the most details will appear closer to your viewer.

There you go! You’ve created a realistic and artistic wave. Take your inspiration to another level and see how many ways there are to paint in waves into your artwork.

Now, watch the video and see how our artist creates the wave and you’ll be ready to paint yours!

Tips for Beginners

  • To help you learn how to paint waves with acrylic paint, use photo references of waves. This will give you more of an understanding of the principles and parts involved in creating a wave. As you get more adept at painting waves, you’ll be able to paint them from your imagination.
  • Stick to the “from general to specific” rule. First, draw a wave and outline the general area with a large brush. Then gradually go on with a smaller brush. As the final step, draw the specific details with a thin brush.

General Tips & Recommendations

  • When using these paints, you should follow the “light-to-dark” principle, as you would with watercolors. This is due to their transparency and that when dried, they do not change color.
  • Take advantage of the easy bright and shiny effect these paints have by using them for adding highlights to still life and landscape paintings or to add the look of real metal in your paintings.

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Loved the work and your product .

Pauline Williams



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