The foreground "bones" go in, using bright red paint.  The scarlet is crucial to the glazing of green over it and creates depth in the paint color and image. This is the scary part, to get the geometry of the trees and ground covering can't blow it now!  

Painting in a foreground really creates that 3-D look inherent in a lot of surf art.  To some, it is "pretty picture" painting, to me, it is my years of living in the tropics coming to life and while I am painting this, I am living it.  

I did go back and adjust some of the shades of the clouds as they conflicted with the wave's foam.  The similarity in values was diminishing the drama and depth, so it needed fixing.  Minor, but important stuff.  

Initially, I sketch the painting on the surface.  In this case, I used canvas.  Like most studio work, I paint from far to near, so the sky and light reference becomes the priority.  I am looking north just after dawn, so the sunlight is to the east (right) leaving the left side of the painting to take a darker hue.  

I also start the initial layering of the clouds using colors that will factor when applying later layers.  Painting with red as an undercoat is basic to many painter's technique, most certainly mine.  The red enables later colors to be "truthful".  I also use varnish and flow mediums at this time, initiating the depth in the paint.       

The painting is done and another commission is signed and now, hanging on the wall in the collector's house.  I hope they love it as much as I did painting it.  

The final application of the paint for the trees and ground covering jumps out due to the scarlet undercoat.  The sand under the near shore is very subtle, but it works. I pulled shade lines out of the grass - again subtle, but meaningful to the viewer as it enhances the light's direction.  It's dawn.

Most importantly, I have stood at this spot

in Panama many times at dawn, getting ready to go out surfing only to be stilled while watching in awe as a set wave comes flawlessly through, seeing a rain squall far off on the horizon.  

This painting took about 40 hours to complete...and I was "there" for all 40 of those hours...stoked.  

The bones are complete and the real painting can now begin.  At this stage, I am glazing colors such as the viridian (that tropical green surfers crave) and other colors that work with glazing.  Not all colors do, so timing and the application of highlights has to be managed.  Also, painting from afar to front takes absolute discipline.  I want to paint the beach and the trees, but first, the water and the wave need to be complete.  Still, I could not help myself, I went ahead and painted the sand dunes.  These are 'bones" at this time, but I needed to get the color right, and importantly, the morning sun shining from the east.​  Note the wave's foam is still dark blue and in general, the highlights are incomplete.    

​Stan Chew - Surf Art 

Surf Art

The painting is really taking shape now and I am thinking of the foreground strategy.  Except for the small wave closest to shore, the sky, clouds and featured wave are complete.  Note the light shining on the right and how it catches white water and sand.  This is a ton of fun and where painting becomes addicting.  You really have to live that moment to get the hues and values correct.  It takes observation and imagination.    

The foreground strategy also becomes a time of fear...I have to paint over so much of what I have painstakingly committed time to.  But it can't be helped.  The background has to bleed through the foreground to give the painting dimension.    

Rain Squall At Dawn

The painting is beginning to take shape, but what I am really doing is "laying down the bones" of the principal image and sometimes, this takes hours to get right.  Early on in life, I had a fascination with geometry, architecture and for some years, I was a draftsman.  This experience is massively beneficial to my painting.  The perspective here is looking straight on, hence the water, from the wave's trough to the shore, has to project depth of field.  When you are dealing with moving water...this takes knowledge born through years of "surf checks" and it is hard to get right. Take note of the sand "bleeding through" the water near the shore. I confess...most of my works are studies in geometry.  The cylinder of the tube, the swirls of the water and the billowing of clouds...basic stuff learned early on in art as a little kid.  Pure geometry. 

There is a saying "fear of the empty canvas" that I believe in.  The objective, once the sky is going in the right direction, is to lay down the under coat supporting the final painting.  Again, liberal use of red and amber hues is in order.  In this painting, note the sandy color in the foreground.  My intention is to let that bleed through the water, showing the shallows as the waves roll towards the beach, pulling sand to the surface.  

I have also painted clouds that are still catching the early sunlight.  The darker colored clouds are for rain, or for white clouds I'll paint later.  


I get asked about my approach to painting frequently.  Stylistically, I am a studio painter who paints Seascapes and Landscapes...Surf Art. But to express myself, it is my painting technique that matters most.  

Glazing is an ancient technique that in large part grew out of necessity by early painters, especially the Dutch.  Essentially, certain paints mixed with varnish then applied in layers was found to have a visually striking effect.  It also compensated for a lack of pigments available at that time. For today's surf artist, glazing offers opportunities to combine realism with romance.  Early morning sunlight bleeding through the back of a wave face or the reef bleeding through the water below the surface of the water are visually accurate, and to the viewer, exciting.  Glazing enables this expression.  

In considering a painting, the painting surface, be it canvas, masonite board with clay or gesso surfaces, all factor into the outcome.  I use all three, but if I want something tack sharp, clay surfaces boards work best.  

I documented a recent painting in phases in order to show the technique I use.     

The "17 Mile Coast" School

Before going into technique, I think it is important to recognize the community of artists I come from.  In a specific region or in artistic "movements", the community is often referred to as a school.  The classic example is the "American Impressionists" of the mid 20 century, better known as "The New Hope School" in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  

I come from one of the most inspirational groups of talented artists and art enthusiasts, I believe, in the US.  They are either centered loosely around the seacoast of New Hampshire, or have been influenced by this unique area.  I call it "The 17 Mile Coast School" for the short length of New Hampshire's Atlantic coast.  Below is a selection of the better known artists, but there is a deep bench of others.

  • Brian Nevins is an internationally recognized, world class photographer who is featured in top publications constantly.  
  • Paul Aho who lives in Florida, is an important and highly respected contemporary artist and scholar, currently serving as Dean at Paducah School of Art and Design.  
  • Hannah and Sam Vokey are both prolific painters of immense talent, with Sam having won more than a few prestigious awards.  
  • Erik Zak's wood carvings are innovative and gracefully express a deep knowledge of the ocean.  
  • Joe Carter is a respected filmmaker and photographer with a distinctive, understated style often featured in 
  • Jim Schubert's paintings range in style and are always executed masterfully.
  • Ralph Fatello is the father of the 17 Mile Coast School for his early and lengthy commitment to Surf Art, photography and film making in conjunction with his constant support of the arts in the region, much through his blog  

Further to this is the list of collectors that support the school through enthusiasm and of course, purchasing art.  The list is long, and some of the collections in New Hampshire include master works of Surf Art and contemporary art on par with any collection in the world.  ​I owe much to this community