How to draw water – a drawing tutorial,tipps and tricks

Drawing water – tipps and tricks

Water is transparent like glass if it is clear and the surface quiet. The water itself therefore often appears as “not visible”. Natural water in creeks and rivers is mostly not 100% transparent. Anyhow drawing water can be a challenge no matter whether it is without color or not and moving or not.

What is visible when we look at water are the reflections on the water surface and those things that one can see under the water surface. Big masses of water like the sea appear in opaque colours, often it is the reflected color of the sky or a muted variation of the sky color mixed with the color of th water. Also the waters of a big river can look opaque. Depending on the situation there are different strategies to depict water in a drawing. Unfortunately in the most cases the water you want to draw appears in a very complex and always changing mix of reflections and transparencies. On this website you will find tips and tricks how to depict water in a convincing way.

What you see when you look at water an analysis before drawing

What you see when you look at water an analysis before drawing
The appearance of water, especially of moving water, can be very confusing. I commend to sit down and watch the water flow and to make notes of what you see:

1. Reflections of the surrounding landscape and sky

At Harmony lake you see the typical mirror effect of a flat water surface. Clouds and trees are reflected on the water. The reflections of vertical elements converge towards to the viewer, as the trees are in far distance that effect is not visible that much.

The mirror effect can be perfect on a totally quiet water surface. If there are ripples the reflected forms are interrupted in a certain typical pattern. Tree trunks are deformed to wavy lines or even interrupted by bright reflections of the sky colour on the ripples. The contours get blurred or frayed as you can see in the black and white image of tree reflections.

2. Stones, sand and other things at the bottom of the water, changed in color by the turbidity and light

The beautiful view of the chalet at a lake is a very difficult subject as the water is very clear and reflections of the landscape above water level and the lake bottom are visible and overlap in an intriguing mix.

Almost any water surface, be it a river or a lake, shows a dark line directly at the bank. In the image of a quiet lake you can see that thin dark line, a shadow of the bank. When you look at the water surface yiou will notice that the closer you get to the bank the more the muddy colour of the water gets mixed intot the reflected color of the sky.

Water pen sketch

In this sketch I tried to depict a water surface with the reflections of a post. From left to right there are more and more ripples. The more the water moves the more difficult it gets to draw water. Appart from horizontal lines or short strokes flat elliptic lines can evoke the impression on water.
The reflection of the post gets more and more blurred or distorted the more the water moves and the bigger the ripples are.

If you experiment with horizontal and elliptic lines to represent ripples on the water you will get a feel what works and what not.

Helpful books on drawing water, river and seascapes

Amazon offers several books that deal with drawing and painting of seascapes and rivers and ponds as frequent and interesting elements of landscape drawing.
“Down by the sea” got excellent reviews and so does “drawing sceneries” more a compendiium of various landscape types.

Online Tutorials on how to draw water

Diane Wright is an experienced artist. She has written a number of great tutorials on landscape drawing. Her tutorial on drawing water is comprehensive and covers the subject very well.

DRAWING WATER – tutorial by Diane Wright
DRAWING WATER tutorial by Diane Wright. Artist Diane wright has written a great comprehensive tutorial on drawing water that covers all aspects very well.

Observations on moving water – analysis before drawing

Moving water is more difficult to draw as the ripples or waves will not mirror the surroundings as quiet and complete as a flat lake for example does.

One can see different patterns of ripples, depending on the water follow. However once the appearance of a ripple is understood and seen correctly drawing moving water becomes easier as all ripples show the same characteristics.

Simply spoken ripples always have a bright top and a darker flank. Ripples vary in direction, curvature and width. In the darker flanks the surrounding landscape is mirrored as more or less thin colour bands, whereas the bright tops reflect the sky and /or might be white because of foam.

Reflections on a pond in the woods

Gouache sketch in the forest diary
In June 2011 Im sketched a pond in the woods. When looking at a water surface from a low view point there is almost no transparencies to see, one can concentrate on the pattern of reflected colours and froms on the surface.

Pastel sketch drawing of moving water

This is one of my early humble attempts to sketch water. I have a vivid memory of thoset 30 minutes I stared into the water, concentrated and tried to draw what I saw. Suddenly I understood the Hermann Hesse novel Siddartha much better, contemplating on a river or stream changes your mind and way of thinking. It was a happy afternoon and for that reason I kept this humble sketch as a souvenir. The water was flowing quickly between those big stones near the river bank creating a confusing pattern that changed and re-shaped again and again…

Stunning realistic drawings of water

Emma Stibbons creates amazing works in charcoal. Her Upstairs gallery portfolio contains impressive seascape drawings in big size.

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