How to Paint Reflections in Water


Serene lakes, ponds, oceans, and other bodies of water may seem picture-perfect, but they are difficult even for advanced painters to paint well. You may be tempted to brush a few white stripes on the canvas to portray reflections, but the painting will not look realistic. The key to painting realistic reflections in water is to pay careful attention to changes in color.

Things You'll Need

  • Acrylic paint set
  • Canvas
  • Cup of water
  • Set of fine paint brushes
  • Lightly sketch guidelines using your photo reference. If you are painting outside, create a box with your index fingers and thumbs to help frame the scene. Sketch out the major shapes of the composition and the edge of the body of water.

  • Paint the objects outside the body of water in full detail. A reflection of a subject is a muted version of it. It is therefore important to perfect the dry landscape to create an accurate reflection of it.

  • Paint blue-gray or brown lines along the inside edge of the body of water, leaving some white canvas to peek through. The lines should be parallel and very thin. If you are painting a scene with choppy water, the lines should be slightly wavy. A calm body of water such as a lake will have a smooth surface, so paint straight and slightly curved lines.

  • Paint blocks of color inside the water guidelines. The colors should be more gray than the original objects in the dry landscape. Add a dab or two of a complementary color to create this muted look. If the water is calm, paint a few white streaks in one area to represent the reflection of sunlight. If the water is choppy, paint a cluster of white dots to represent spray and thin, wavy white lines.

  • Apply a wash over the body of water. Some artists prefer to let the paint dry and use watercolors, but you can also dilute your acrylic paint with water, add a dab of white, and apply the wash. With a large, flat paint brush, sweep over the body of water. This will create a glassy effect that mimics the color of water.

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  • Photo Credit paintbrush #3 image by Adam Borkowski from
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