Painting Lakes

Painting water is often a problematic area for artists wishing to paint reflections on lakes or ripples on ponds. The colour of water is diverse and highly dependent upon weather conditions and colour of nearby objects. So how can the artist paint water effectively?

How to Paint Water

Such a challenging subject matter is best tackled from a simple photograph. It might be worthwhile taking several snaps during different weather conditions in order to explore the patterns found within ripples and reflections. Water in calm conditions will appear vastly different to when it is choppy, as can be seen in the following illustrations of water during calm, slightly breezy, windy and gusty weather.

How to Paint Reflections

The painting above illustrates certain aspects of water during calm conditions. Nothing will compare to firsthand observation, to make water look authentic in paintings, but the following pointers might help.

  • The hues of objects reflected in water will often appear slightly darker or muted in colour than the object itself
  • Like a mirror, the reflection of the objects will appear upside down on the water and directly below the objects
  • Calm waters will give reflections a vertical aspect

Painting Rippled Water

During a slight breeze, the water will take on a different appearance and the following tendencies might be observed.

When viewed at a distance, disturbances caused by the breeze will appear as horizontal bands of ripples

  • Disturbances within these bands will appear more ordered than disturbances observed close by
  • Large stretches of water will often remain undisturbed during a slight breeze where reflections will retain their clarity, diffused only where disturbances are taking place
  • Dappled light will often appear in lines at a distance, but more random closer to the viewer




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How to Paint Waves on Water
During windy weather, the following tendencies might be observed on the water’s surface.
  • Unlike during calm weather, there will be very little or no reflections visible
  • The colour of the water will appear more uniform
  • Ripples pushed along by the wind will move parallel to one another in local areas, but in a different angles in other areas
  • Waves will appear to move in horizontal lines in the distance, but chaotic closer to the viewer

How to Paint Stormy Water

When water is under the influence of gales and strong winds, the following aspects might be seen on the water
  • The colour of the water will appear uniform, often spreading across the lake
  • The hue might take on a grim or colder colour than when the water is calm, such as greys, turquoises and slates
  • No reflections can be seen
  • Breaking crests might appear in rows from a distance, but more random closer to the viewer

Lake Painting

As can be seen, although water is a chaotic force, its appearance will follow certain rules when viewed during different weather conditions and viewpoints. Generally, the disturbances on the water will appear in horizontal bands or more regimented than disturbances close by. The colour of the reflected object will also appear a little darker than the object itself. Only sensitive observation will reveal further interesting aspects to water.
Read more about the pigment blue and how blue has been used in art on my science of colour site.

This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my 2 art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010