With time and observation, you’ll build a vocabulary for understanding the physics of the chaos that is the sea. But the key is learning to trust your eyes: Painting should be a direct response between the eye and the mind. In contrast, many students name an object and then try to paint it. The result is that they end up painting their preconceived notion of the object, not the object itself. That’s especially dangerous when painting the ocean because it can change drastically from moment to moment as it’s transformed by light, wind and sky.
A foreground wave can be especially important to the composition because it conveys a strong feeling of movement while simultaneously bringing the viewer into the picture. By studying the sea, as well as the works of many great painters before me, I’ve learned that this foreground wave should be darkened. Taking the tone down has the effect of rolling the foreground wave below the feet of the viewer and inviting him or her into the scene.