How do you draw water? It’s a question which has puzzled me for a while. Water has always been the one art subject which has intrigued and defeated me.

Unlike a still life or a portrait of a person, water is forever moving and changing. The surface is broken as it’s caught by the wind, the light plays on the ripples in different ways. So how to draw it?

Examining the Reflections

Let’s take this water ripples photo by Roy Pieket.

Have a good look at the shapes and patterns created by the light on the water. It may look like the photograph contains just two tones, light and dark, but it is the mid-tones which are important in producing a realistic drawing.

However, translating these patterns and tones onto paper is easier said than done.

Look at these two paintings I did in the summer, for example. I’m not happy with the water. It looks flat and static, mainly because I was too scared to ‘spoil’ the picture by trying to paint some life into it!

Detailed Pencil Study

I’ve decided that before I tackle water again as part of a complete scene, I need to do a few detailed studies.

After trawling Flickr for a water photograph I found this one. It seems a good idea to start with a black and white drawing so as not to complicate things with colour. Don’t want to be getting ahead of myself!
Black Blood – Nydia Lilian

I am determined that the drawing is going to be as accurate as I can possibly make it, inspired by the hyperrealist artists from my post last week. By overlaying a grid on the photo I can concentrate on each little square individually.

I am going against my own advice with this one, which was to ‘think big’ when attempting hyperrealism. My excuse is that I’m sure I would get bored of drawing little patches of light and shade if I tried it on a big scale. So it’s small. Very small.

This is what I’ve done so far. Drawing square by square is quite addictive. I find myself thinking “I’ll stop after this square”, then getting carried away and doing another three!
water pencil drawing
Sam’s not convinced about it at the moment. He reckons it looks like ‘nothing’. Always the critic! I’ve assured him that it’s going to look amazing when it’s done.

Nothing like a bit of a challenge to motivate me to finish!

PS. Sorry about the grainy photos, blame the lack of sunlight 🙁

I’m sharing this post over at Manon Popje’s Illustrations


Wow well done, Clare water is very difficult to draw, i have some photos of ripples in sand which i would love to know how to replicate. Keep going, its working xxx

I think it looks really good so far. I have an obsession with rainy windows – the way the drops run in rivulets down the pane and make the view outside look sparkly, blurry and a little magical. I went through a period of painting lots of these rainy window scenes – some on canvasses even smaller than the paper you’re using now! Mine were more abstract though as the scene lent itself better to that than realism. I did start a larger painting of a close up section of a view through a glass of fizzy lemonade but then we moved house and I never got round to finishing it – you’ve made me want to go and look it out and get it finished now!

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