Frederick Waugh Notes on Marine Painting Part 2

These are the rest of Frederick Judd Waughs notes on Marine Painting.   I highly recommend the biography on his life written by George R Havens published in 1969, if you can find a copy.

I find to paint the sea in a modernistic way, something is lacking, just because in this case, subject counts. The sea to my way of thinking should look like the sea.

Of course to paint the sea on the spot is good- very good- but at its best it is confusing. At first one is inclined to paint every sort of wave which comes, dropping the one which has been laid in for another one. Soon however the attention becomes riveted upon one peculiarly attractive phase and you look for repetitions of it until by degrees you have worked it out.

So I, when I paint waves from nature, make up my mind what composition in drawing I will undertake, and stick to that one rigidly until the end, no matter what other composition comes forward to claim my attention. This continual watching for repetitions in the anatomy of the sea is no end of a help to the student. If however you cannot go to the sea, how on earth do you expect to paint marines? There is no textbook on the subject which can give you the same insight as the sea itself- nor will pictures do so entirely. Photographs are incorrect, in that the color and values are wrong…

In general, all waves must have weight body color which is varied in tone, light and shadow. They have bulging curves. Leave the sharp edges to the rocks especially for contrast. A wave is carried forward by the weight behind it until reaching the shallow water where the directing power of the sand forces the top to fall over. The expanding shut-in air breaks into foam. The wave continues to rush forward and part of the foam is left behind by the back force which forms innumerable patterns.

The sea itself is very subtle in color and ever changing, you must learn by heart these subtleties, if you want to do it well. You cannot throw a few daubs of paint and expect to find the sea painted in a convincing manner. I say that if the sea is to be painted in a worthwhile manner, the painter must study it from nature each part of the year, until the time arrives when they can paint it quite well from memory as from the real.

It is a good plan to begin by looking at the general tone of the sea as compared with the sky, and striving, without painting the details, to paint a single mass of plain water against the sky in its right relation, both in value and color. This also applies to painting the sea against rocks or sand.

I do not pay particular attention to details now but I am glad I used to do so because knowing them intimately aids me to paint broadly with more certainty than if I never studied them.

Finally it is better to err upon the side of loose, ragged painting than upon the side of tight, close hard, finished painting. Nevertheless everyone should study both in line drawing and in mass with color or pencil or charcoal.


Frderick Judd Waugh American Marine Painter
George R Havens
University of Maine Press 1969

Frederick Waugh’s Paintings of the Sea
Walter foster book 153
Walter Foster Publishing

Waugh passed away at the age of 79 on September 10 1940 in Provincetown MA. The cross that marks his grave is inscribed with the 19th verse of Psalm 77, it reads

“Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.”

9 thoughts on “Frederick Waugh Notes on Marine Painting Part 2

  1. Thank you so much for this, Armand! Mr. Doug Higgins was so kind to photo copy several of these Waugh paintings in black and white for me to study. I so appreciate being able to have access to them in color.
    Sincerely, Kim

  2. Thanks for the reminder of the Walter Foster books. Waugh's and Preston Blair's were two of the good ones.

    What he says about painting waves from observation is so true. You really have to commit to the phase of the wave you want, because otherwise you keep wiping out the laying trying to catch another composition.

  3. These are so wonderful. I like what you've written. The sea is a great challenge to paint. Not only do you need to know it well, but it is hard to compete with the lack of sounds and smells when we put paint on canvas. Those elements will always be missing. And those elements are a big part of being at the sea!

  4. Many thanks for the wonderful posts on FJW. He is possibly my favorite marine artist. I think he is undervalued today because later mediocre painters sought to copy his success and created a kitsch genre of motel-room-art seascapes which has turned people off.
    As someone else commented he was possibly the first artist to paint the surf, at least the first to paint it with anatomical accuracy (he must have had a phootgraphic memory to capture waves so accurately without the aid of a camera). Although the British painter David James was a specialist in waves, and was earlier, I think.
    I've posted lots of FJW's and DJames' work on my blog and many others. I'll post a link to Art and Influence. Hope that's OK.

  5. A belated thank you for taking the time to post this… Anyone who loves to paint the sea and wants to do it well would be well served to study Waugh's work….I just bought the Walter Foster book on ebay for $4.00… lucky me!

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