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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

Top 7 Tips to Create Realistic Water Paintings As A Beginner


Looking at a water painting can stir numerous emotions inside a person ranging from calmness, serenity, and turbulence to even anger. Nevertheless, irrespective of the mood of the artwork, depicting water on your canvas can be a therapeutic process that can satiate your artistic soul. There is no doubt that it is one of the most captivating subjects to paint. However, it can also be one of the most complicated feats to achieve as a beginner. Trying to capture its fluidity and luminosity, new artists often don’t know where to start. 


A digital water painting depicting the sunset and sea

With the aim to solve this confusion, today we will discuss some very useful tips that can help you create more realistic water artwork. Here we go!

Start Painting Realistic Water Painting

As a beginner, the pressure of creating a realistic painting can be quite overwhelming. However, the trick is to break the process into smaller, manageable steps so that you can get some bearing on the process. This makes it much easier to understand every step and how they affect the rest of your painting.

1. Find a reference photo

The first step to start water painting is to find a suitable reference. Painting a real water body can sometimes be more difficult because of the changing waves and ripples. However, if you use a reference photo, it can solve this problem for you.

Additionally, using a reference can also eliminate unwanted distractions from the composition. This ensures that the final result doesn’t have too many unnecessary details in the frame. To make it easier, look for images that depict a still water body, instead of choppy waves. You can better study its reflection and other details when the water is calm as compared to when it's raging. Hence creating a 

2. Study the color of water

Is blue the only color that comes to your mind when you think about the color of water? If you just answered yes, then you may want to rethink. A water body takes its color from its reflection. Hence the only reason water looks blue is because it is reflecting blue! Water absorbs light, especially red and yellow, and reflects blue. However, it also reflects the colors of other objects around it. 

Hence, depending on the elements around it, water can look green, blue, red, or even orange. Therefore, before you start painting, it is crucial to observe the accurate colors in the water, This will help you create better effects of reflection and make your water painting more realistic. 

3. Find suitable colors

New artists often get confused when buying colors because they do not understand the differences in their hues. This is where your knowledge of color theory and the color wheel comes into play. It helps you understand how you can combine different colors to make a harmonious composition. You can easily learn this with some practice and basic research. Till then, here are some color suggestions that can help you get started.

The popular choices for blue are ultramarine blue, phthalo blue, and light blue permanent. Other shades can include titanium white, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, light green permanent, cadmium lemon yellow, cadmium orange, mars black, and grey. However, irrespective of the suggestions, your final choice will always depend on your choice of reference image. Once you get accustomed to the differences in each hue, you will be able to make a more informed decision about the colors you want for your painting.

4. Lighter and darker reflection

Just knowing the color of the reflections in water is not enough. If you closely observe your reference material you will realize, there is always some difference between the reflection and the real image. Sometimes the reflection is darker than the real object and in some cases, it is lighter. Although it is never the same color tone. 

The reason is simple physics — the reflection of sunlight which causes different colors of light to fall at different angles. This difference in the angle of reflection, the bending and refraction of light causes this difference in hue and color tones. Hence, if you want to create a more realistic water painting, these small details can create a big difference.

5. Copy the masters

The last tip in the segment is to study the masters.  When you start observing the famous water paintings created by old maestros, you will notice their brush strokes and understanding of the subject. This will also teach you how to work with a limited color palette. Adding too many colors to a composition sets off its balance. It creates a haphazard result with very little to no color compliments and this can ruin your entire painting. 

However, most well-known artists use a very limited number of colors in their palette. Copying their work with fewer colors may seem difficult at first, but it actually helps you improve your art. It deepens your understanding of how you can use a single color to create multiple tones and how each of them affects the final result. You can easily find your inspiration on the internet, or visit physical or virtual art exhibitions depending on your interest.

6. Paint one thing at a time

Let’s say you want to create a painting with a clear transparent water body. There are rocks at the bottom and you want to paint their reflections in the water. What do you think is the best way to approach such artworks? Will you paint different spaces with water and rocks together? Or will you break them down into different elements and paint them separately?

Most beginners might pick the first option as it sounds relatively easier and less time-consuming. However, we always choose the latter! Painting separate elements all at once can mix your colors and make them look muddy — thus ruining your painting. Instead, if you paint one element at a time it gives your water painting a much neater appearance. 

Add a layer for every element and then let it dry thoroughly before you paint the next one. The darkest colors are always for the initial layers which get lighter with every additional wash. Darker colors on newer layers can cover your previous washes. You want to avoid that when your aim is to paint transparent, reflective water.

7. The largest shapes come first

A general rule of thumb for not just water painting, but every artwork is to paint the largest objects first. This gives you a rough idea of where every element will go on the surface. Correct placement of objects is extremely important for the final result of your painting. It makes sure that the result is closest to what you are aiming for. It also helps to ensure the harmony of the composition where the size of objects doesn’t seem off.

In the beginning, you don’t need to draw the elements to perfect accuracy. You can just create rough shapes to mark the place and then build on the details  Once you have placed the larger objects, you can then move to smaller objects that add the finishing touches to your painting.

Embrace the Playful Nature of Water Painting

The best thing about water paintings is that their playful nature gives you a lot of creative freedom. It gives you the liberty to explore different elements and depict them how you want to. Just because a lake looks blue, doesn’t mean you necessarily have to paint it blue. You can add tinges of green or orange to change its appearance. You just need to make sure that it compliments the composition as a whole.

Painting water is relaxing, so do not stress yourself trying to achieve a realistic look. It won’t come with your first painting. However, if you keep practicing, observing, unlearning, and relearning, you will definitely reach your goal. 

To encourage more artists, TERAVARNA regularly organizes theme-based online art competitions. Our water art competition is dedicated to artists who love to create water paintings and showcase them to the world. If you are also one such artist, we are eagerly waiting for your submission.



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