This is my latest wave painting, it was done in my studio using several reference photos and sketches I did on site in acrylic. Below is one of the sketches, it is interesting to see how closely the two are related.
I relied so much on the sketches I did on location to enhance my memory of the colors and movement of the ocean. The reference photos were helpful in developing the composition and breaking out the values, but beyond that I relied much more on the sketches and memory. When you sketch on location, the memory becomes ingrained, because you are not just thinking about what you are seeing, you are translating it onto paper or canvas and therefore much more focused on really “seeing” what is there. With a photo, the camera is doing all the seeing for you, so you don’t have that memory of what things looked like or more importantly the gesture of your subject. This is particularly true of moving subjects like the ocean. I highly recommend sketching from life whenever possible, improved observation and drawing skills go a long way and are skills all representational artists need to hone as often as possible. There are no short cuts.