Painting water - basics

In this small painting(12"x12"), I'll  mostly work with two main elements: shape  and transparency. To address first one you need to use a flat or angled soft (acrylic or watercolor ) brush, and make strokes along the shape of the surface - horisontal where the water still and repeating shapes where water disturbed. To address second you need to work with colors, and smooth gradient transition between them. Sometimes it's frustraiting with acrylics - they dry quite quickly. There are several solutions: Open Acrylics, which are great, but somewhat expensive, and no challenge. You can add retardant (50/50 mixture with water) or water to the paint.  You can apply glossy acrylic varnish to the surface of canvas, let it dry, and then  paint.  Canvas will be smooth and won't absorb water as quickly,  be careful not to add too much water to your paint - it will just run ! Another approach for more quick work - is to dampen slightly surface before painting, or spray your layers with water during work. Try all and decide which one is more comfortable for you.

For the demo I'm using reference photo of litthe wave taken in bright, but cloudy day. Remember to explore your reference, make desision, sketches, and then just put it aside. Don't let the photograph stiffen your work !


  For the  background colour I mixed Torquise Green + Permanent  Magenta, the other good option is Permanent Magentaand + Phtalo Green (for darker colour). It's very important before starting actual painting, explore colour mixes and hues you can obtain by adding warmer lighter (for highligts) pigments.  You can create you own palette tool, it's a bit time-consuming, but very helpful in long run.


  I dampened slightly surface of the canvas board first. Then with flat brush applied the mix,  with long horisontal strokes. Water on the behind the wave is lighter and take some bluish colour from sky. I added Titanium white and Light Blue Violet  directly on canvas, and with the same "movement of water" spread the paint.

I did not mix paint perfectly, and its allowes me to have digfferent in-between hues: just don't overwork.

Continue to block all foreground with Torquise Green + Permanent  Magenta mix, try to follow general shape of small waves.


As you can see on reference photo, the colour of wave and reflection on surface of the water are different, more warm colour.  For this colour was used Yellow Ochra, again directly mixing it on canvas with wet background:


For the wave I use Yellow Ochra, Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium white. Note, to make gradient transition between colours, I mix then on palette; but still apply on wet background paint (better not do it on green palette !).

Build you wave with long strokes of flat brush, fallow water with your brushwork, and keep your paint wet:
















Don't you feel flying over water, moving with it, full of joy ? It's the only way; if you are frustrated and overworking your painting, it's already not water, but solid surface !
What you are satisfied with general shape and transparency of the wave, you can start working on details. I usually use rigger brush,  long and soft. For this part I mixed Titanium White and a bit of background mix , just to tint it. The paint should be watered down, to apply it easily and smoothly.












Bubbles was done with round, free movements of the same rigger brush and watered mis of Titanium White and Torquise Green + Permanent  Magenta mix.




You can add some highlights to the top transparent part of the wave adding Cadmium Yellow Light to the mix.





For the shadow underneath the wave and drops of water I mixed a bit of Burnt Umber into Torquise Green + Permanent  Magenta mix.






Highlights (Titanium White + Yellow Lemon+ Perm Rose) added to bubbles and drops. You can work on details in several hours or  next day, when main part painting dry.




Happy painting !