Bring the Sea to Life on Canvas: An Oil Painting Lesson for Beginners

This video tutorial is dedicated to the sea-piece painting – a sketch painted with the help of the oil paints. We will use the painting «The sunset on the sea» by Ayvazovsky as an example.

With the help of this oil painting course video you will learn to paint:

  • the sea waves,
  • the sunlight coming through the transparent waves;
  • the flecks and the sunlight path on the sea surface;
  • the spindrift on the surface of the sea water;
  • the bright sky, the clouds and the sun at the sunset of the day;
  • and the ship which is far way.

While painting this picture, you will learn the oil painting techniques which can allow you to work on the sea-piece at large in a quick and proper way and to draw in the certain details clearly enough.
In order to paint this «sea» picture, you will certainly need a flat paint brush (and it is better to have several of them).

Your brush should have quite soft hair, thus this brush will be able to touch the canvas surface slightly and leave almost no traces.

Linseed oil. If there is some linseed oil in the paint thinner, it will be much easier for you to apply the smooth layer of the paint and also it will prevent the paint from the quick drying-up.

You will need the following paints for our online oil painting lesson:

  • White;
  • Cadmium Yellow;
  • Cadmium Red;
  • Lake Pigment Red strong;
  • Cobalt Violet;
  • Sky Blue;
  • Turquoise Blue;
  • Phthalocyanine Blue;
  • Viridian Green;
  • Burnt Umber;
  • Lamp Black;

You should start your work on the sea-piece with the great damping of the canvas using the paint thinner together with the linseed oil.

Let`s start with applying the background paint. Set a tone for the sky and the sea. Then outline the skyline and highlight some «distinctive features» of your landscape scene in appropriate colors (the waves, the clouds and so on).

While the canvas is wet, outline the skyline and begin to apply the background paint. Paint the sky in orange colors and the sea in turquoise, green and brown colors (Everything should be done in keeping with our example – the painting by Ayvazovsky).

The layer of the applied paint should not be too thin and transparent.
After the whole canvas has been filled in with the paint, you are ready to come over to the next stage of our landscape painting tutorial. Take a flat paint brush and begin to smooth and mix the paints with gentle and soft movements making the light and imperceptible switches from one color to another. For this purpose you will certainy need the flat paint brush and the linseed oil.

During the process of painting the marine (sea) picture you can often improve or rub down something or blur the lines which are too accurate and clear.

The beautiful and important details of our today`s painting are the fleck path coming from the sun and running ahead over the waves and the big wave shot through with the sunbeams on the foreground. Our painting would have been too simple and dull without these details.

Since we have applied the basic background, let`s begin marking these important details of our composition. Sketch out the fleck-path of the sunlight on the water. First remove the excess paint in the place where the fleck should be painted with the help of a cloth. Then take a brush and apply the White mixed with the Lake Pigment Red strong or the Cadmium Yellow. Follow the direction of the wave taking into account its tilt and shape.

Then sketch the big wave on the foreground with the Turquoise and The Sky Blue paints. The closer you move to the top of the wave-crest, the lighter paint and more white should be used. Also you should remember about the wave shape which resembles a pyramid and you should not forget that this wave is moving in the certain direction changing its color and shape.

You should not forget the abovementioned useful art painting ideas. Your movements, made with the help of an ordinary brush and a flat paint brush, should align with the moving direction and the shape of the waves you are painting.

Since we have marked the light on the sea waves, let`s begin to highlight the darkest deep and shadow areas.

For this purpose you should learn the following rule:
In order to show the depth of the sea waves and water, we do not use the cold but only the warm and intense colors.

For example, we do not take the dark cold blue and the phthalocyanine green in order to paint the lightless part of the big wave, but we use the Burnt Umber mixed with the Viridian Green (you can also add a bit of the Lamp Black when painting the deepest and the darkest areas).

After you have applied the pints, marked and highlighted the main details, take a flat paint brush and slightly blur, smooth and mix all the paints. Use the brush and make the slight movements in different directions; however the final movements should certainly repeat the shape of the waves you are painting.

Use these kinds of improvement and blurring several times during your working process.

Now let`s come to the next step of our landscape painting lesson plan and return back to the sky. It is much easier to paint the sky than the sea, especially with the help of a flat paint brush and you fingers. First paint the top and the right part of the sky in darker blue and purple colors. For this purpose apply a bit of the Cobalt Violet or the mix of the Lake Pigment Red strong and the Phthalocyanine Blue with the help of a brush. Gently smooth the switch from one color to another using a flat paint brush. If necessary, add a little more violet and blur with a big brush one more time.

Use your fingers – it is the best and the simplest way to paint the small clouds drifting across the sky. Apply a thin layer of the White with a little Lake Pigment Red strong or Cadmium Yellow (or even the pure White) and then blur and smear it with your fingers. And that is all – the cloud is ready!
Sketch out the sun using the White mixed with the Cadmium Yellow. Mark the central part more densely and pastously and blur the paint on the periphery of the sun so that there are o clear lines.

Draw the fleck of sunlight on the water under the sun (but not somewhere aside); it should be drawn almost like a straight line.

Draw the sea-foam and the small flecks on the waves with the rare White using a thin brush №1, №0. Gently brush off the «ringlets» of the sea-foam and the fleck strokes with a flat paint brush. Then finalize it one more time. If you have done everything well on the first try – let it lie.


Draw the shadow under the sea-foam, flecks, curves and wave threads – do it with a thin brush using the darker colors:

the Sky Blue – for the lightest areas, the Turquoise Blue and the Viridian green – for the darker areas and the Burnt Umber – for the darkest parts.

Improve the shape of the waves and the fleck one more time and blur it once again… You can do this in a one session or finish it the next day.

Let`s come over to the final stage of the landscape oil painting lesson. Paint the ship while the background paint is still thin thus it will be easier to correct something if necessary. Paint the ship in the Burnt Umber with a thin brush. Do not forget about the flecks of sunlight and the shadows on the ship.

In order to draw the thin clear lines and make the improvements, your hand should bear against the little finger. It will not let your arm shrink and the rest part of your hand will move quickly and easily.

The smoke coming from the ship is also drawn with the fingers using the mix of the Burnt Umber and the Cadmium Red. When the painting has slightly dried up, you can make the flecks on the waves clearer and the sunlight brighter.

I painted this picture in two sessions (using 60х70cm canvas). The second session (the next day) took only about 15-20 minutes: I had improved the flecks, the light on the wave-crest, the sea-foam and the sun one more time.

I wish all of you good luck and new success in your creative work!





2 responses to “Bring the Sea to Life on Canvas: An Oil Painting Lesson for Beginners”

  1. John Doe Avatar
    John Doe

    What inspired you to create this beautiful painting?

    1. admin Avatar

      Thank you for your kind words. I have always been fascinated by the ocean and its vastness. Painting it on canvas allows me to capture its beauty and share it with others.