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Ocean Theme and Mixed Media Seascape Variations

The Challenges of Seascapes

Bodies of water, Nature’s living seascapes, have some interesting optical properties.  Still water reflects the sky when viewed at some angles.  At other angles the water becomes transparent.  Movement in the water creates sparkling rippling effects and focuses light in unique ways. To create a painting of the water, an artist much choose which of the optical properties of water to depict.  Since water is in motion, a painting has to average or freeze frame the actual state and appearance of water to create a two dimensional still image.

But what if there were a way to bring some of the variability of water back into a painting?   How could this be done?  Acrylic paint and acrylic compatible media offer some interesting possibilities.  Dried acrylic media are transparent and they can be shiny (like water).  Materials like mica and glass very different refractive indices than acrylic, creating possibilities for refraction and reflection.  Even acrylic gel tinted with a transition metal based pigment will have a different refractive index than clear untinted acrylic media. Rounded glass lenses focus the light and create variable light effects with subtle viewer movements.  All of these materials and ideas offer possible approaches to put the water-like fluidity back into a painting, and to mimic water more closely than a simple depiction.

Seascape Themes and Mixed Media Techniques

rhapsody on the sea whole
Rhapsody on the Sea, 36 x 48 inches, is a complex layered mixed media oceanscape. It contains several paint application and mixed media technique “themes” which are clarified and explored in several smaller oceanscapes.


I’ve been working on several mixed media seascapes, approaching the challenge of water, light and movement through different materials experiments.  There are a number of different paintings that each emphasize and rely on a different possible approach to “water”, rather like variations in a musical theme and variations style piece.  These are punctuated with larger more complex paintings that really gather together a number of media and ideas – the “theme” pieces that tie together different intellectual threads and restate a number of techniques to create an oceanscape.

Rhapsody on the Sea is one of the two theme pieces. Rhapsody uses many layers of transparent glassy fluid acrylic media. Inks and paint mixtures of varying viscosities and miscibilities added to the glassy media create complex patterns that move from deep inside the film towards the surface and back.

Extruding Acrylic for a three dimensional rippled seascape

By the Beautiful Sea uses a different group of acrylic media, which are also highly transparent. Acrylic gel media are fairly elastic Bingham fluids with some thixotropy (shear thinning properties). These properties make them great for Playdoh style extrusion. They are less resistant to flow in the high shear of the nozzle, and pushing them through a pastry bag doesn’t break my hands. Once the shearing stress is removed, all of those labile colloidal interactions that make Bingham fluid magic set themselves back up very quickly. These interactions make the gel behave like a decent solid when it’s not being spread, smeared or pushed. It will hold fairly fine textures from the pastry bag nozzle and can stably reach a good height. Extruded transparent acrylic gels were used in By the Beautiful sea to build up complex three dimensional patterns of clear :”vermicelli” ribbons and threads. When these threads are all piled up, they evoke the currents and variations in clarity of water.

by the beautiful sea

A lot of the underlying structure of By the Beautiful Sea is obscured in the final painting.  It looks like a seascape, but people have told me that it “feels like being at the sea”.  I believe that evocative feeling is created because the construction of the painting makes the viewing experience more active.  As the viewer shifts, the piece shows a subtly different aspect.

Some of the “bones” of “By the Beautiful Sea” can be seen around the edges.  In these spots the extruded vermicelli-like ribbons of acrylic and the spherical glass inclusions are not obscured by clear liquid pours of water-like acrylic medium.

btbs context outdoors

 Pouring Acrylic for swirling transparency and depth in the seascape

Another Variation on the seascape theme is “Betwixt Sand and Sky”  In this case raked clear tinted gel creates a layer of rippling patterns and textures.  Extrusion is less prominent.  Instead layers of poured and swirled acrylic are used over a foundation of patterned metal foil bits.  The pouring technique creates swirling currents of color.  By carefully using an opaque white, swirled not blended, swirling patterns of transparency are also achieved.  These layers of complex frozen currents and variable transparency allow glimpses of the metallic reflection from the foil underneath.  WHile it doesn’t exactly depict light rippling from the waves, “Betwixt Sand and Sky” does a decent job of simulating these glimmering light effects.  The original is already sold.

betwixt sand and sky perspect1
Oblique view of Betwixt Sand and Sky


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betwixt sand and sky context

betwixt sand and sky - Copy

OK, now what if I go nuts with extruding a seascape?

“Gelid Seascape” is perhaps the most adventurous seascape variation of the group.  Most of the painting was created using layer upon layer of tinted extruded ribbons.  By piling up ribbons of different transparencies, an image is suggested.  There is a lot of empty space and air in the paint film.  It is structured more like a rigid foam than a typical painted surface.  A final layer of textured tinted gel in the sky and tinted plain gel in the sea was used to help the piece cohere.  It was squeegeed into the lower layers of extrudate, leaving the upper layers protruding.  Is it still a painting?  There are some details below, followed by finished and in progress versions of the painting.

gelid seascape revised det 5
Detail from the transition between the sky area of “gelid Seascape” and the sea area.


gelid seascape revised det2
Another gelid Seascape detail


gelid seascape revised


Gelid Shoreline – larger and more organized

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Next up in Seascapes

Keep your eye on this blog if you like my weird seascapes.  I have a few more that are almost finished.  They will be featured and discussed in a follow up post.  All of my Reinvented Seascapes can be viewed from the Portfolio pulldown menu.  All of my Art is for Sale (if not already sold) and ships free to the US and Canada and all other regions served through FedEx.  Use the contact form below if you have any questions about shipping to your area or about these pieces in general.