Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Ripples in My Lake Painting Look Fake and Unconvincing

An oil painting of water may look more like warped sheet metal rather than liquid. Bright blue or slate grey interspersed with black intended to represent ripples on the water’s surface may spoil an otherwise vibrant landscape painting. What can the artist do to make ripples look convincing in oil painting?

The Problem with Painting Ripples in Water

The artist’s first encounter with painting the ripples on the water’s surface is often overwhelming, as there many elements to consider. This means the artist may not know where to begin. Before improvements can be made to an oil painting of ripples over water, the artist may try to identify the practices at fault, which could be the following:

Giving in to the dictatorial part of the brain that insists upon rendering what the brain knows about ripples rather than what the eye sees. For instance, all ripples are circular in shape, they appear elliptical from an oblique angle; each concentric circle moves outwards at equal distance from an epicentre and become less defined as it moves outwards.

How Not to Paint Ripples

Employing the following chromatic rules will also result in unconvincing ripples.
  • Darkening the predominant colour of the body of water, be it blue or grey, with black to illustrate the shaded side of each ripple.
  • Using white to represent the crest of each ripple.
  • Illustrating the ripples in a linear fashion with a thin brush “drawing” the ripples rather than painting them.
  • Rendering distortions on reflections in the water only where the ripples occur.
Painting Convincing Ripples

In order to paint realistic ripples on water, it is important to forget what the brain knows about them but to paint them candidly, with all their bizarre forms and hues. Working from a photograph will take the pressure of an ever changing element. Consider the following when painting ripples:

Ripples are not always perfectly elliptical if colliding with other ripples or waves, causing further patterns, such as semi-circles, stripes, criss-crosses and all manner of complex forms.

Ripples can be a multitude of colours. A bright day could create great contrast in their hues from very dark to white. In other lighting conditions, ripples may contain bright green, violet, creams and even crimsons. Ripples often do not have shadows, but a colour shift.

Painting Techniques for Painting Ripples

Agonising over every detail when painting ripples could result in a cluttered water painting. To achieve a broken, impressionist rendering of water, half close the eyes to simplify the view. Use a wide art brush and use bold brushstrokes as opposed to lines. Mixing colours accurately will help suggest water better than mere outlines. Work from mid tone outwards to darks and pales and take care not to let the darks contaminate the pales. I often apply the different tonal areas touching each other and then I knit the areas together with a soft clean brush. Soft blending is really the key to creating a suggestive painting of ripples.

Don’t be afraid to use bright colours or deep tones if these can be seen. Finish off with the highlights, which may be applied with neat white paint.

Painting Ripples in Detail

Another technique is to work in glazes. Work as described above, but smooth out any brush marks. A soft clean rag often does the trick. Don’t worry if the painting looks imperfect. Allow the paint to dry and then apply an upper glaze. A mixture of thinned paint works to smooth over imperfections or modify the colour beneath. Detail can be applied on tops with a fine brush. Create focal points by working on selected areas of the painting rather than all over, such as a reflection of clouds or highlights.

What Colour are Ripples?

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Any colour can be found in ripples, but I find the following colours can be used for the base colour of water: ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red, viridian green, lemon yellow, burnt sienna, burnt umber and varying amounts of white.

Viridian, pthalo blue and white will provide the aqua tones of a Mediterranean scene; pthalo blue, burnt umber and white can be used for an overcast Scottish Loch. Permanent rose or burnt sienna will add warmth to the water, but pthalo blue will cool the colour.

Further Advice on Painting Water

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