Monday, 1 March 2010

How do I Make Water Look Like Water in My Paintings?

Painting reflections in water paintings is often a most problematic area for the beginner. They are often illustrated as simply an inverted image of the object above, sometimes misaligned or too idealistic. In other cases, water is illustrated as an area of harsh blue or slate grey, with suggestions of little waves on top. Such a portrayal of water is likely to look naive to the viewer.

Common Mistakes with Painting Water

Realistic Water Painting
Rachel Shirley
By drawing attention to painting practices that are the causes of an unsatisfactory painting of water, the artist can begin to make improvements. The following areas are often the culprit of a lake painting that fails to convince.
  • Using any blue or grey at hand and painting it neat over the area representing water
  • Painting waves on top of the water by using the same brush mark, the same colour and the same size, all over the water surface
  • Illustrating the body of water as having a definite edge
  • Representing the water as having the same tonal value all over the water’s surface regardless of the surrounding weather conditions
  • Painting reflections misaligned to the objects causing the reflections or painting them off true of vertical
  • Painting the reflections with the exactly the same colours and tonal values as the objects causing them
  • Illustrating edges to reflections and colour areas that may not exist
Tips for Painting Water and Reflections

Although water is a complex subject matter, when it comes to painting lakes, seas and rivers, water adheres to certain rules.
  • If a reflection of an object is visible in the water, it will always lie immediately below the object itself. Using a ruler as a drawing aid will help ensure accuracy
  • Regardless of the shape of the object, its reflection will be given a vertical aspect due to the texture of the water’s surface
  • The colour of the object’s reflection will often be darker or more muted than the object causing the reflection
  • Ripples, waves and other surface textures on the water will appear smaller, flatter and more regimented with distance.
  • If the light is behind the viewer on a calm day and a uniform sky, the tone and colours of the water’s surface will appear more muted and paler with distance
  • The colour of the sky will always appear a little darker and saturated when in reflection.
See my video clip on how I painted water in this Lakeland scene. As can be seen, the colours of the lake adhere to certain rules. The colour is deeper than the sky colour, patterns appear more regimented and smaller with distance. A basic colour palette of cerulean blue, burnt sienna and white was used.

The Secrets to Painting Water

As with painting any subject matter, careful observation is the key to painting convincing water. The following tips will help:
  • When painting reflections, turn the painting upside down to ensure they are truly vertical and lie immediately below the objects reflected.
  • Don’t exclude any colour from the palette of water, regardless of how bizarre it may seem, so long as the colour can be perceived in the water.
  • Check that the tonal value and colour of the water keys in with the surrounding landscape. For instance, a body of water that appears too dark or too blue will cause the painting to jar. Standing back from the painting and half closing the eyes will help the artist gain an overall view of the painting and how the water fits in. Making adjustments will often be necessary
  • Resist the temptation of illustrating every wave and ripple. Using a soft brush or wide bristle brush will help soften any sharp edges and lines.
  • Painting water will always involve a certain amount of blending, such as the edges of reflections, ripples and shorelines. Using a wide sable brush is ideal for this purpose
  • Using a wet into wet technique is a great way of giving water a fluid look
  • If the area of water is unsatisfactory, it pays to wipe the area off with a clean rag, or to let the area dry and to apply a thin layer of oil paint on top in a glaze.
  • Using linseed oil and painting water in layers will often result in a lustrous and smoothly gradated area of colour and tone
  • To add sharpness to the blue of water, adding a little viridian green to pthalo blue will illustrate a crisp water’s surface on a clear day
Essential Art Materials for Painting Water

Painting water favours some colours more than others. Useful pigments are titanium white, ultramarine, pthalo blue, cerulean, permanent rose and viridian green, although other colours will be seen.

Good quality soft sables, flat sized 6 and 10 are useful for blending large areas of water. Rounds sizes 1 and 3 are ideal for sharpening up detail. Bristle brushes such as ox hair are perfect for impasto techniques and pasting on large areas. For experimental techniques, linseed oil will add transparency and lustre to the paint for glazing techniques. Impasto medium is ideal for adding body to the paint and making the painting stand out in relief, for example when expressing rough seas and spray.

Links on How to Paint Water


Sandra Wilkes said...

Thank you! I looked everywhere for help with water and reflections. Yours is by far the best!

Rachel said...

Glad to be of help!