Paint Water in Every Season

Shaw's Cove by Ray Roberts, 2003, oil painting, 12 x 16.
Shaw’s Cove by Ray Roberts,
2003, oil painting, 12 x 16.

When I was in college, I read a lot of Romantic poetry, and what still sticks in my mind is all the water imagery those writers used. For them, water was a stand-in for life, transcendence, and the creative impulse. With such inherent possibilities, it’s all but essential for painters to be able to accurately depict this inspiring element, and that’s why we’ve compiled several methods and solutions for doing just that.

Vernal Falls by Stefan Baumann, 2003, oil, 27 x 17.
Vernal Falls by Stefan Baumann,
2003, oil, 27 x 17.

In the natural world, water is rarely absolutely still. There is always some kind of movement, whether it is the wind blowing on the water’s surface, underwater currents, or waves cresting along the shore and flowing back out to sea. When painting water, be mindful of its motion, which is given away by the light reflections on, and refractions in, the water. In acrylic painting, scumbling with wet paint over dry is a great way to achieve these visual effects.

Water is a chameleon. It takes on colors around it—that of the sky, of its close surroundings, and of its contents. In most landscapes, water takes on a greenish cast and tends to darken with its depth, so shallow waters often have warmer tones that grow cooler as the water gets deeper. When water painting, it is always good to remember that.

The Brooklyn Bridge by T. Allen Lawson, 2002, oil painting, 7 x 10.
The Brooklyn Bridge
by T. Allen Lawson,
2002, oil painting, 7 x 10.

Mirrorlike reflections are not the domain of creeks, rivers, and oceans. Reflections of sky on water tend to be darker than the sky itself. In the same way, dark shadows cast on the water tend to be lighter than shadows cast on land.

In a way, water is like a window into all the beauty of Nature and into the artist’s mindset—equally inspiring on both fronts. In keeping with the essence of water as inspirational, free-flowing, and surprising, consider a live workshop with famed and popular artist-instructor Johannes Vloothuis on Painting Water and Canyons. The web seminar comes to you this time, through the comfort and ease of your computer screen. It is three dynamic sessions of painting and that means three opportunities to explores the compelling and unique subject matter of land- and seascape painting. You’ll also get direct access to the workshop footage because everything gets recorded and you can go back to it whenever you want.


P.S. If you want to begin your next land-meets-sea paintings with brushes and a palette that don’t distract from the scenery you are capturing and that show the true color of the paints you are using, consider the Jack Richeson & Co. new line of brushes and palette pads, Grey Matters. Featured in the Road Test column of the July/August issue of The Artist’s Magazine, these new brushes and palette could make your next foray into landscape painting an exciting and rewarding one!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

8 thoughts on “Paint Water in Every Season

  1. Courtney,
    I am taking a Landscape course series with Daniel Edmondson, and one of the wonderful things about the course is water- Out of the 10 Landscapes in the series, water is featured in eight out of the ten. Everything from a couple of waterfalls to still water and then to a couple of frozen winter scenes with exquisite water detail, finishing with a gushing spring water scene in a stream. Now I must admit, there are no ocean scenes in the series, however I think that can be saved for another day. Thank you for your delightful comments and artists you tend to follow. One note, the series is in oil, so i always look forward to comments about anything in oil.

  2. I love to paint water. As an oil painter I paint it every chance I get. I also teach online classes with the Artists Network University.
    One of the mistakes many artists make is to first paint the surface of the water. Step one is to paint the depth so start with vertical brush strokes using the color of the water. This gives the water depth.
    Next paint the surface with horizontal strokes and thicker paint. The more turbulent the water the more horizontal brush strokes added.
    Last add the lightest highlights. I usually use a palette knife for this or lots of paint on a brush for waves. Be very careful not to overdo the highlights. In this case less is more.
    Hope this helps some of you artists and look for my upcoming classes.

  3. < < dark shadows cast on the water tend to be lighter than the actual shadows.>>

    Can anyone explain this comment to me? It doesn’t make sense to me…

    Perhaps what the author intends is that “dark shadows cast on the water tend to be lighter than the actual shadows” would be if cast on land?.
    Thanks, nancy