How to Make Water Look Real on Paper


Creating the realism of water on paper is a challenge that professional and week-end artists have worked to master for centuries. Practice and following some basic rules, will make it possible to accomplish realistic-looking water. The rules dictate the flow of the water, the reflections in the water and the changing values for creating the feeling of distance.

Things You'll Need

  • Paint
  • Painting surface
  • Brushes
  • Add colors to the water as you paint the sky, matching color placement in preparation for reflections.

  • Paint the water using horizontal strokes. This rule is important for all types of water. It keeps the water from feeling as if it is running off the paper. Currents and directional flow around objects will be added later.

  • Create the reflections in the water by either pulling color into the water from the object being reflected, or by painting the colors into the water below the object. The rule to follow is that the colors in the reflection are always one value darker than the reflected object. Darken the value by adding a small dab of black to the color.

  • Blend the colors into the water with a soft, clean, dry brush. Stroke gently in both directions to help move the paint of both the water and the reflection into each other in a random horizontal pattern. Wipe the blending brush off if it builds up too much color as you blend.

  • Dab small amounts of color into the water and blend with the soft brush. The more you blend, the softer the reflection will be. Gentle blending gives the water a glaze that makes it feel like glass.

  • Create the feeling of distance by making the horizon a lighter value than the foreground. Do this by adding a small amount of white to the color. The same rule applies to the sky. The sky farthest from the horizon is a darker value than the horizon.

  • Experiment with values. A progression of lighter values gives the feeling of distance.

  • Complete the water by adding currents to the water over the reflections and value changes. Thin strokes randomly painted across reflections will give a feeling of water movement. Add a few off-white horizontal lines along the shore line. Varying the thickness of the lines will give the feeling or ripples off the shore.

  • Paint circular ripples around an object in the water, but still maintain the overall horizontal effect.

  • Paint in waves in a seascape. The waves will follow the curve of the shoreline, but the main water flow still remains horizontal.

  • Finish the painting by putting final highlights on areas that capture the most light.

Related Searches


  • "Color Mixing for Artists;" Lidzey, Mirza, Harris and Galton; 2002
  • "Romantic Oil Painting Made Easy;" Robert Hagan; 1995
  • Photo Credit gold water image by Qdigits from polar sky image by Artiom Radonezhskiy from water reflections image by Auran from water reflections image by Edsweb from lakes land image by Kushnirov Avraham from sunset image by Denis Makarov from looking into the horizon image by Sebastian from sunsets image by Tadija Savic from bird silhouette image by Lucy Clark from majestic waves 9. image by mdb from swan on water with reflection stars, clipping path image by Nataliya Hora from
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