View Full Version : Painted Ocean Waves in PS

11-09-2009, 12:58 AM
Creating a painted ocean

Note that this tutorial is done using Photoshop and a pressure sensitive stylus tablet. Everything can be done with a mouse, but you will generally make your brush sizes smaller and paint with half the opacity that I list here. The illustrations for this tutorial show waves that are vastly out of scale for the landmass, I did it that way to better illustrate the technique, even so I think the ideal waves for a painterly looking map will be many times bigger than real waves may be.

1. Create your landmass, use any method you care too...My focus is just going to be on the ocean, sea area. Using a large soft edged round brush with pressure sensitivity on -paint in the ocean on a layer below your landmass, keep the pressure light around the land and heavy as you get further out until you have something close to the first picture. The focus here is to keep some irregularity and inconsistency. You can change colors if you like as you radiate outwards and inwards building up the sea. I stuck with just one color and relied on the white of the underlying background layer to show through the transparency to create my shade variations.

Addendum: I have added a closeup view which I did at a larger scale, basically doubling my brush sizes was all I did differently to create this close up. I am also adding more details and options to each step to help explore individual looks which may appeal to you or the methods of your map better.

11-09-2009, 12:59 AM
2. Duplicate your ocean layer - hide your original so you can go back to it over and over quickly if things don't go the way you like with this step. I am going to do three passes of different filters, first I hit it with reticulation (foreground color is the ocean color, background color is white) set to very small values (density 2, foreground level 2, background level 5) then I immediately go to edit > fade and fade the reticulation effect to 10%. Next filter is add noise set to 8-9%, then immediately fade that effect to 15-20%. Last effect is median set to 2 pixels. What I end up with is a somewhat watercolor looking ocean. -for some added thrill you can play with the liquify filter and paint in some currents and turbulent type looks but make sure you fade effect on that as well when you are done otherwise it will look too obvious, remember to try to look painterly and a clear use of some tools in photoshop will break that illusion quickly. Layering up of slight effects goes a lot further. Here is what I ended up with:

Addendum: There is actually infinite+1 ways to do this step, this is just a quick method that I have come up with that I am happy with for getting a watercolor look. One other method that I will mention is to duplicate your water layer, apply a find edges filter to it, then change that layer to multiply and lower the opacity. This almost gives a lighting effect look to things but its can be very controllable and quick. Additionally you can add a ripple effect to this multiply layer for added watery look.

11-09-2009, 01:00 AM
3. Create a new layer on top of the ocean you just "painted". Now comes the fun part...don't worry if you can't draw a straight line, that actually works against you now!.. identify the divisions of light and dark in the ocean, the big ones you created in step one, not the little effects from step 2, its these divisions you are going to focus on. Make a small round brush, about 65% hardness and size 10 or so depends on the pixel scale for your map, adjust accordingly when you see what happens. I set shape dynamics to pen pressure. Scattering is set to 200% with control off. Now choose white color and set brush opacity at 40%. You can do this with a mouse as well, just ignore the shape dynamics and make your brush about half the size, about 5 in my case. Now you are ready to paint waves...scatter them loosely along those divisions of light and dark. Make your waves scallop shapes running parallel to your shorelines, make some short and some long, its ok to be fairly chaotic, it helps, just don't paint over the a wave that is already drawn otherwise you will have an area of double brightness. It is easiest to draw the waves closest to the shore first and radiate outwards, embrace the natural patterns this creates and continue them. Also as you move outwards from land you can drop your opacity down as an option...here I kept my opacity at the 40% all the way, but I did draw the waves more and more loosely as I went outwards. - Erase waves you aren't thrilled with and just keep things fast and loose, the definition will be there eventually.

Addendum: Don't worry about details too much, though if your waves are going to be quite large you can go back in with a smaller brush and add some more splatters to the leading edges.

11-09-2009, 01:01 AM
4. Now its time to add a bit more definition to the waves, reduce the scattering to about 150% and make your brush a bit smaller 6 is fine, set your opacity to 80%. Now you are going to paint highlights on the same layer on the edges of the waves closest to your landmasses, or if you have scalloped them well then keep them on the convex edges. Start very lightly, this white is going to look blinding at first so just go light and scatter this highlight to a few places on each wave, keeping it primarily to the center and always on the edge facing the nearest land. This step is going to take a while, but patience pays off. I know I know, I promised some definition but they still don't look like much more than chalkboard scribbles yet.

Addendum: For some added spray details you can make your brush smaller again and add a few splatters of white just in front of the leading edge of the wave.

11-09-2009, 01:02 AM
5. Time to make a mess of things....well actually to smudge things. If you are not already in love with the smudge tool in photoshop this will push you over the edge. New smudge brush, make a size 8 circle brush, again with about 65% edge hardness. We want the shape dynamics on pen pressure again and scattering set to about 250% and control set to pen pressure. Set strength to about 80%, but feel free to tweak this to get the effect you want. This part is the fairly time consuming, we are going to smudge eyelashes on each wave, drag from about halfway between the leading edge and the trailing edge (leading edge being the edge closest to land) and pull outwards away from land. Space each lash irregularly, again chaos is our friend, some lashes should be long and some short. Vary your pen pressure and the speed at which you flick out each lash. When you are done you will have something that is recognizable as waves, but there is more to do.

Addendum: You can lengthen some of the lashes even more by dragging out with the smudge tool again from the mid point of the lash. Some waves can leave quite long trails of foam especially when they break gradually.

11-09-2009, 01:03 AM
6. Now we paint with the eraser, this is the most time consuming part. Set your brush to about size 6, 65% hardness and shape dynamics to pen pressure. We are going to cut into the trailing edges of the waves and both clean things up and add more painterly style to the whole deal. Similar to how we made the lashes in the previous step we are going to start our eraser strokes just behind the brightest areas of foam and stroke outwards and away from land, making some of the lashes narrower and erasing most near the ends of each wave so that they taper more. You can also erase some from the leading edge of the waves, creating more spray in the whiter areas, just don't overdo it...this part is fun because you can see the final waves take shape as you cut away at them. Again use very light, short, quick strokes. Use this opportunity to clean up mistakes and ensure the flow of the lashes and the waves are contoured pleasingly. Yes I know I am being very subjective here but its time to let your artist out. Depending how you sweep and curve your erasures you will end up with all kinds of looks, its possible to go from realism to stylized almost anime looking waves at this point. I suppose I am somewhere in between with this particular image.

Addendum: You may want to go back and forth some between this step and step 5 with the smudge tool, especially where your erasures look too regular and to smudge out some of the sharper trailing edges of the lashes. You can see how I did this in the close-up view.

11-09-2009, 01:03 AM
7. Last part! Lets make the waves furthest from land more transparent so that the focus of our map comes back to the landmass itself. You may want to take the whole wave layer and turn its opacity down some. I reduced the opacity of my layer to 75%. Then using a large soft eraser (size 60-80, hardness 0%) set to 10% opacity and no shape dynamics I started carefully erasing - just to lower the opacity of the outermost waves initialy but working inwards, leaving the waves closest to shore alone.

Addendum: You can also with a bit smaller eraser go over the outer ends of the waves to dim them a bit more - and the inner areas between scallops if you have a long wave with multiple scallops. Again its just a slight change really but it just adds a bit more depth and variance that says "painted".

11-09-2009, 01:07 AM
Here is the map I am working on using this technique. It is a map of my son's campaign world which I am illustrating for him from his direction. I am using an isometric perspective and as you can see its still very much at the beginning. I was really happy with how the water came out and I thought I would share my process.

11-09-2009, 07:26 AM
Looks pretty amazing Tom! The waves are awesome indeed. Looking forward to seeing this progress...

Steel General
11-09-2009, 08:10 AM
Neat stuff here, thx for posting :)

11-09-2009, 08:35 AM
They look wonderful Tom, especially on the map you are doing for your boy. Great stuff and thanks for sharing the technique. :)

11-09-2009, 08:39 AM
This is perfect. I've been wanting to tackle some more painterly things and you really help me with this. Way to go, man.

11-09-2009, 09:40 AM
5. Time to make a mess of things....well actually to smudge things. If you are not already in love with the smudge tool in photoshop this will push you over the edge.

HERE HERE!! Smudge has been my fav tool for quite a while..

11-11-2009, 02:05 PM
Thanks everyone. I hope this comes in handy. I am not a GIMP user but I imagine that a lot of what I have done here has a counterpart there. There is no ONE way to do this stuff, find methods you enjoy and that work for you and explore from there. It's my pleasure to share what I discover in my own explorations - I have learned a lot from the tutorials here, I am constantly pouring through them to find new and different ways to do things.

I have added more details to my tutorial and close-up details on the anatomy of these painted waves. Hope it helps, it really is quite simple - the challenging part was putting it all down in a somewhat concise tutorial.

01-12-2010, 10:26 AM
It is a map of my son's campaign world which I am illustrating for him from his direction.
You are an awesome dad if I may say so. Also I love the waves!

01-12-2010, 11:35 AM
Nice tut, Tom. I eagerly await more :) Repped.

01-12-2010, 12:45 PM
Thanks Molch and mearrin69! I have to do more work on that map. It has been on hold because I began writing a fantasy novel and our D&D group is in hiatus for the winter as one of our main players is a new daddy.

01-18-2010, 04:44 PM
I love the simple elegance of your method and the beautiful results it provides. I've already begun putting this wonderful tutorial to use. :)

04-09-2010, 11:42 PM
Thanks for this tutorial, I've used it on a few maps and I really like the effect it gives. Well done!