How To Paint Water for Oil, Acrylic and Watercolor Paintings

From Streams to Oceans — Learn About Painting Water

Man painting

Paintings of oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water can be beautiful, but managing to get the water to look like actual water instead of simply a splash of blue on the canvas can sometimes be quite a challenge.  To find excellent tips on painting any subject, I recommend you check out the popular Painting and Drawing Secrets.

One of the most important things to remember is that there are a variety of different types of bodies of water, each with its own unique characteristics. Make sure that you consider the differences between rivers, lakes, oceans, and puddles before you start to paint them, and you'll likely recreate them with greater ease. You can use oil, watercolor or acrylic paint with these instructions. Here's how to paint water.

  1. Sketch the area that will be filled with water on your canvas before you begin to paint. If the body of water is one that would have several different depths within it (such as a lake or ocean, or a deep river), go ahead and sketch the different depths as well.
  2. When you begin, one of the basic painting techniques is to start with the deepest area and use a slightly darker shade than the rest of your depths. Though it may seem odd at first, you'll be able to blend your different depths later and it will add additional realism to your painting.
  3. Continue to paint the different depths, using gradually lighter shades as you work your way into more shallow water. When you reach a shoreline or any exceptionally shallow water (such as that found in puddles, should you need to paint them), add paint thinner to your paint so that you can make a semi-transparent paint known as a "wash."
  4. Using a brush dipped in a little bit of paint thinner, lightly brush over all of the water depths that you've painted; this will help to blend the colors together. If you plan on having waves or crests in your water, you should mimic where they will be with the paint thinner so that the blending will follow the waves.
  5. Switch to a fine-tipped brush, and using a little bit of white or gray paint begin adding waves or crests if you plan on having them. Apply only a short, thin line of paint, giving it a slight peak in the center.
  6. Learning how to paint water reflection can be very tricky. If there are any dark clouds above the painting, you might want to use a few of their colors as accents to any waves that you create. Likewise, you should use the colors of a sunset as accents to mimic the reflective nature of water, making sure not to use too much of any one color in the reflection, and only painting the reflection on the tops of waves.
  7. Since water is reflective, you're going to want to reflect the trees, mountains or anything else that might be in the water or along the shore. You should show a bit more detail than you did with clouds or light, but not too much. And make sure that the more waves and turbulence there are in the water, the less of the reflection you can actually discern.

Of course, the final results that you get will depend largely upon the type of paint and materials that you're using. Though these instructions and painting tips are designed for oil paints on canvas, you can use them for acrylic paints or watercolors as well with minimal difficulty. Watercolor paintings can be particularly difficult when it comes to water though. It's important to keep in mind that watercolors will run if too much water is used, especially when adding accents such as reflections or the crests on waves, or when doing a wash to give a partial transparency.

Painting is a skill that is perfected over much time and with much practice.  Attending an online university for art and design can help you hone your painting skills and gain knowledge in other areas of art as well!


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