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How To Paint Water With Watercolor | Guide To Paint

Beautiful sea view of traditional San Giorgio Maggiore island, Venice, Italy with historic view Italy, Watercolor landscape original painting multicolored on paper, illustration landmark of the world.

Artists say it is easy to paint water with the proper watercolor paints, and we completely agree with them. 

Now water could be still or have ripples and waves. You might want to draw a bubbling stream, a ferocious ocean, or a quiet pond by a hut. These paintings will have mixed shades and a horizon on top. Again, others prefer abstract art and want to paint water from up close. 

To make it easier for you, we have prepared this guide on how to paint water with watercolor, which will help you understand how to make ripples and waves while dealing with water. Sometimes, paper can make a huge difference, just like painting on yupo paper compared with traditional papers, never the influence of good supplies in the final painting.  Also, we will be talking about the different types of reflections and how they are to be painted. 

So, without further ado, get your watercolor kits and draw some water, this will be a beginner guide on how to paint with watercolors

How To Paint Water With Watercolor

How To Paint Water With Watercolor

Painting ripples is an important criterion while painting water, and in this guide, we will be teaching you the process. Here, you can learn how to paint water at a distance and up close. We believe that no image reference will be needed as the watercolor painting technique for water is not very complicated. 

Nonetheless, water can be hard to render by brush, and it is best to know the basic principles while painting it. So, before we begin, let us tell you about the materials needed for the job. 

Materials Used

You will require 300 GSM watercolor paper so that it does not tear. Plus, you can take a set of watercolor brushes, a painting palette, a ruler, and masking tape. The colors can be of your choice, and the masking tape will keep the paper in place while you work on it. 

In a nutshell, the materials needed are: 

    • Painting set
    • Paintbrushes 
    • 300 GSM or thicker paper
    • Ruler
    • Scotch tape 

Now, before you proceed, we will ask you to settle in a quiet space with a minimum level of distractions. This will help you relax, which should make it easier to follow the tutorial. 

Once you have found a quiet space, please take two cups and fill them with clean water. We suggest two cups so that you can rinse the brushes keeping in mind the various tones that you may need to achieve. 

You will also need to attach the paper in place with the help of scotch tape. Just tape the paper to the surface below, and you will be ready to begin. 

What Is The Color Of Water?

We all know that water has no color, but most paintings will have water painted in blue. So, before we move on, you should know that the color of water depends on the color of the sky and the surroundings that reflect on the water. If the sky is blue, then the water will be blue, but many advanced painters make the water red, green, and other shades. 

While there is no barrier to exploration, we will be explaining the painting process with the color blue. However, you are free to choose any shade you like and then continue with the same process. 

The Painting Process

Painting water does not need to be a complicated process if you master the strokes well. It is basically about learning how to move your wrist in the correct way so as to achieve the right strokes. A professional watercolor artist should be able to slightly flick the wrist to make the right horizontal strokes. The way you apply the strokes will determine if the water is far away or nearby. 

So, first, we will discuss the process of using watercolor paints to paint water that is far away and then move on to painting water that is close by. 

Painting Water At A Distance

You will find it very interesting to learn about how to paint water at a distance. Usually, the water will fade into the horizon, and you will have to distinguish between them. The process involves a few abstract lines and strokes that need to be contextualized in the painting. 

Before we begin, let us tell you that the process has been divided into steps to make it easier to understand. 

1. Wetting The Paper

You will need blue-tinted water to wet the entire page in the beginning. To get it, dip the brush in blue paint and then put the brush in one of the water cups. It will create a light blue tint, which is perfect for use. 

Take the brush and wet the entire page with it evenly. There should be a thin water layer covering the whole page from one corner to another. The water has to be evenly distributed so that the color that is going to be applied on top spreads well. 

2. Making Light Strokes

First, we will paint the lighter tones of the water. To do this, you will need to dip the brush in blue color and then rinse it gently so that some of the paint stays on the brush. Then use it to create light marks and paint strokes from left to right. Begin from the bottom of the page and only paint till half the page as you would want to paint the horizon from there. 

Now you will need to slightly shake the brush while making the strokes so as to achieve the right effect. Also, keep lifting the brush as you finish making one stroke and then continue accordingly. You will notice that the watercolor is fading as you go upwards. That is exactly how we want it to be. 

A word of advice here: do not use a very dark shade of blue or too much color while making the layers. Rinse the brush before applying so that the color fades out to some extent. 

The colors will also fade a little more as they dry. Do not panic at all, as that is exactly how it is supposed to work. We will be adding darker shades on top of this to bring out the water texture. 

3. Making The Horizon

After the initial layer of watercolor has dried completely, you can move on to defining the horizon. To do this, apply a faded blue stroke along the middle of the page where the last water strokes are visible. Ensure that the color is faded out so that you can get the right texture. 

Next, use the same washed blue color to make strokes all throughout the upper half of the page. This is basically the background for the sky, and it needs to be painted in a smooth manner. The seamless gradient will give you a faded look that is needed here. 

4. Bringing Out The Ripples

After you let the paint dry completely, there should not be any specific marks that make the horizon visible. The blue should seamlessly fade in, giving you a uniform look. Here, it’s alright if there are some discrepancies. Painting water in the right way takes time and practice to perfect, and you can keep working on it till you’re satisfied with the results. 

Moving on, you will need a medium-round brush to paint the darker ripples. However, we will begin with a small and thin pointed brush. This will help in painting small ripples at a distance. 

You will have to make side strokes from left to right, which do not have to be smooth. Distort the lines slightly, or try painting distorted horizontal shapes by shaking your wrist while painting. 

5. Using Darker Shades

Once the paint is completely dry, you can proceed to make darker ripples using a dark blue shade. To do this, a small brush is required along with dark blue watercolor. You will have to make horizontal strokes with it and move from the bottom of the page to the top. 

Here, it is essential to use the darker shades sparingly so that it does not cover the mid-tones. The aim is to create depth by using multiple shades of blue. So, to keep the tonal variations in place, paint with caution and ensure you are scattering the marks more towards the bottom of the page. Then let the color fade as you go upwards to the middle of the page. 

Also, while painting, try to make all the strokes in one direction so as to show the flow of water towards one side. For example, you can make the water flow towards the left by painting strokes horizontally from right to left. 

Then you can try light stippling as you reach the center of the page near the horizon line. Here, create small stippling marks to make the distance more visible. They do not need to be very detailed and can be small. 

Watercolor landscape paintings top view colorful of Mekong River, mountain natural and forest with village, sky cloud background, landmark in Thailand. Painted impressionist, illustration image

Painting Water That Is Near

1. Apply Water To The Sheet

To begin with, spread a thin water layer on the page evenly. It should be distributed all over the page so that the paint spreads well over the surface. Unlike the previous process, here you do not need to add color right in the beginning. 

2. Making The Initial Strokes

After the page is wet, you will need to wet the brushes and dip them in blue paint. We need light-colored strokes in the beginning, and it is best to rinse the paintbrush slightly in the water again after the initial wash. 

Then start making strokes on the paper from one side to another. Keep lifting the brush after a few strokes so that white spaces remain on the paper. Also, ensure that you leave white spaces in the middle of the page. 

While working, remember to squiggle the brush so that you can achieve uneven strokes. Once they are made, let the paper dry completely. 

3. Creating Darker Ripples

You will need to make darker shaded ripples on top of the lighter tones. So you can dab the brush in black and then blue to darken the blue shade. Then make jagged strokes from the left to right side of the page. Begin from the bottom and then slowly move upwards. 

As you make the strokes, leave spaces in between so that the bottom layer is visible. You can move your strokes in one direction to show the direction of water flow. 

Also, as you move upwards, the strokes should be kept thick. You can let them fade as you go upwards. Then go for a slightly lighter blue shade as you move above the middle of the page. There is no horizon here as you are painting water from up close. 

4. Adding The Final Ripples

Now mix blue with a dot of black paint, and then use your brush to create darker strokes. These have to be applied very sparingly and have to be concentrated near the bottom of the page. You can then move upwards and from left to right. Also, make sure that the strokes are jagged so as to imitate the reflections on the water. 

As you move towards the top of the page, the strokes can be made in a linear manner. You can also fade out the paint as you move toward the top. This will allow you to make the clear water smoother. 

After you have covered the entire paper, let the paint dry and fade out. You should be able to see more detail towards the bottom of the page. Then the watercolor should slowly fade out as you move toward the top. 

Painting A Rough Sea

Now that you already know how to create waves with strokes, you will just have to leave larger white gaps for painting waves on a rough sea. Large white gaps give the indication of waves breaking quickly. 

Also, if you wish to create the image of waves, then it is best to leave white gaps on rocks. That would show the waves splashing against the rocks. 

Painting Reflections

Water painting means including reflections of objects around the water body. If there are houses, then you can see their reflection in the water. If the water is still, then you will have to paint the houses, boats, or greenery visible on the sides of the water. However, this is applicable for close-up views. 

If the objects or the water bodies are at a distance, then you can see a dark shadow below. In this case, you will not have to dive into details. Just make the shadow darker, and that should do the trick. Also, remember to distort the shape as the reflection will not be like the exact object on top. 

Another kind of reflection to know about is on the wet sand. Watercolor paintings with wet sand can act as a mirror, and you might have to paint a shadow of the person or object on the sand. However, when capturing a scene from a distance, there is no need to keep this in mind. Just make a darker shadow in the opposite direction of the light source. 

Further, before you paint reflections, remember that the color of the water needs to be taken into consideration, and a darker shade needs to be used. For example, if you are using olive and brown tinges in the water, then use a darker shade of the two colors to show the reflection of the object. 

Things To Note

With the above-mentioned watercolor painting techniques, you should be able to use watercolor paint easily. Just remember to use the water in watercolor sparingly so that you do not end up spreading the colors too much. 

Adding to the great tips, we will recommend keeping two cups of water along with the dry brush set. You can rinse the brushes in one and use the second one to clean better. The two jars will have different tones, which can help in painting the first layers. 

Moreover, remember to always frame the painting by leaving a white border on the sides. This can be done with the help of scotch tape. The tape will also keep the paper in place so that you can work without any inhibitions. 

And if you are feeling experimental and want to try out other shades, begin with blue, olive, and turquoise. This will give a muddy look, and you can also indicate vegetation below the water. Many artists use these colors for pond water, rivers in villages, and hillside water bodies. 

How To Paint Water With Watercolor

Paint Water With Watercolor Final Words

Artists make a number of attempts to master their work, and it is only natural for you to take time. So, please do not get disheartened in case you are unable to achieve the right strokes in one go. Just keep practicing the watercolor techniques that you have learned here, and you’ll get better. 

With this, we have reached the end of this guide, and it is time to wrap up. Do let us know about any further issues that you may have. 

Take care and keep painting! 

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson is the heart of the team, senior editor and our Head of Product Reviews which means she sets the testing parameters of each group review ensuring that tests resemble everyday use.

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