Seascape Foam Patterns Using A Knife

Hi Darrell, I really love seascapes. however what is the trick to making the foam pattern with the small knife? Anytime I try to do it, it just ends up mixing with whatever color I have used for the beach. Draig.

Hi Draig,

Great Question, Draig. Just got back from a filming trip in Marblehead, MA, which is one of the historical ship builders’ site for Tall Ships in the Northeast.

This is a great question. Personally, I’m not fond of painting an entire seascape with just a knife. I get better effects using brushes and a knife. Whereas I do occasionally paint an entire painting with a knife, I can well understand your question below and believe the following should help.

If the beach color is mixing with your foam color then it means you’ve either:

1. Too much pressure as you apply the foam color and you’re ‘mushing’ the foam color into the beach color and a ‘blend’ is the result.

2. Too much medium applied to the canvass and it’s mixed with the beach color and made it quite thin. So when you try to apply the foam color, which is much thicker, the beach color transfers to your knife (or brush) and no foam pattern is really transferred. In fact, to leave any foam color, you have to press really hard which makes mud. This is the old ‘thin paint sticks to thick paint’ rule in effect., The cure is to use less medium when you apply the medium and if you do, let it sit for an hour or two to ‘tack up’. Another method of removing excess medium is to simply paint over the medium after application (prior to any painting) with a dry, clean 2″ brush. This will pick up the excess medium off of the canvas and place onto the brush. Clean brush and continue.

There are a lot of techniques for producing foam patterns. The knife, again, depends upon what you’re trying to do.

Let me give you a few examples.

Is this foam pattern for water rushing up on the beach? If so, then load a bead of foam color up on your knife and apply paint along the beach where the sea is running up onto it. Then holding the knife with thumb and forefinger, no pressure, no finger on the blade, pull the paint either right or left (depends upon your painting and the direction of water running up the beach) parallel to the bottom edge of the canvas. It does not matter here if the paint doesn’t break.

If you’re producing foam patterns with a knife between the wave and shore, apply paint with a knife using very long “Z” strokes as I showed you in the Basic Techniques with a brush. Make a line, break it, make it again. Overlap your knife strokes until you have the water movement going. If you’ve covered to much of the canvas with the foam color, you can add ocean color again by loading some on your knife and here and there applying a small round of color. This gives the painting the foam pattern often seen in churning water.

If you’re producing foam patterns at the base of a rock in the water, simply apply a small bead of paint at the base of the foam color. Then using a knife pull the bottom edge of the paint bead either right or left parallel to the bottom of the canvas. Now as you begin this pull you might go slight down or up depending upon the direction of the water. To have water down the rock, simply, with the edge of your knife, pull the top edge of the paint bead up the rock slightly. This shows the water smashing (or lapping) up against the rock. The higher up the rock you bring the foam, the harder the force of the water hitting the rock.

If you’re producing foam patterns at the base of a rock on the beach, simply take your knife and pull the rock color down for a reflection. Be sure to brush (or swipe) to set the rock reflection into the beach. This with a small amount of the foam color (thinned), on the bottom of the knife, cut a small bead of paint at the base of the rock.

For foam patterns on the wave, simply load up the small edge of your knife and going in the direction of the curl of the wave, shape backward “3”s coming down the wave. Be sure to flatten out your knife stroke as you get to the bottom of the wave so the pattern will look natural and then z-stroke the foam into the body of the water as you reach the bottom of the wave.

For foam patterns at the horizon or beyond the first wave, use very long z-strokes adding you color lightly. If you have more waves than the first, repeat the instructions above ensuring you keep the size of your foam patterns consistent with the size of your wave. And if you get it too big, simply blend the color into the ocean color and repeat.

I hope this helps you.
Darrell