How To Paint Water with Acrylics

Capturing the beauty of water takes skill, but with practice and dedication, you will start to develop the proper techniques to paint it. When painting water, you have to consider the materials you will be using. Different mediums behave differently. Painting water by using oil is different from painting water using watercolor.

However, painting water with acrylic paint is a little something in between the two, because acrylic has some properties of oil and some of watercolor. Like oil paint, acrylics can be applied straight from the tube, paint on top of every layer, and you paint with the darkest color to the lightest. Like watercolor, acrylics can be diluted with water to make them more flowing and give them the consistency of water-based paint. That is why if it is your first time to try your hand at painting water, using acrylics might be the best choice.

When painting water with acrylic, you will need the following:

  • Flat surface
  • Acrylic paint
  • Acrylic paper
  • Synthetic flat brush
  • Synthetic round brush
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Water
  • Photo guide (optional)

  • Gather your materials and work at a place where you have enough space and light.
  • Draw a sketch of what you will be painting. This would be a good time to do a value sketch too. A value sketch is a small sketch of your painting with the shadows and highlights shaded. This will help you determine the color combination and shading you will be applying later.
  • Mix your colors. Remember that water is like glass – you see what is beneath it. If you will be painting rivers, you would need brown murky shades. Test your acrylic paints for transparency and hues. Do sample colors on a separate paper before committing them on your painting.
  • You can paint the background first. This way when you paint the body of water you would know what reflections and highlight you need to add.
  • Then start painting the water. Use different shades to depict the shallow and deep areas. TIP: When you paint with acrylic, be sure to paint first using dark colors and adding the shadows before working your way to the warmer, lighter colors and the highlights. TIP: When painting large areas, you can use a broad flat brush. You can paint a wash over the water area, and slowly build up on it by adding layers of color and detail. As you go to more detail you will need a round brush for different strokes.
  • Add white to create illusion of transparency and reflection. Dabbing white will create a foamy effect. Crisp white lines will create highlights.
  • Lastly, water reflects its surroundings. Add colors on the water present at the background to recreate that reflection. These should not be detailed, rather it should only hint of the shapes at the background.

Painting water is a challenging and rewarding project. To get better at drawing water with acrylic, you can also first set a date when you will observe different kinds of water to see how it behaves – flowing water, stagnant water, dripping, sea, in a glass. It will also help train your eye for details that you can later on translate with your hand.


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