How To Paint Water With Watercolor

How To Paint Water With Watercolor

If you are interested in how to paint water with watercolor, you hit the jackpot! Water is one of the most beautiful subjects to paint, and with watercolor, the results can be breathtaking.

In this tutorial, we will start with some basic techniques for painting water. We will then move on to more advanced ideas, such as painting still ponds, waterfalls, rough seas, harbors and more.

With a little practice, you will be able to create stunning paintings of water that look like they were captured right in nature! Obviously, you want to use the right watercolor materials when paint water, so even if you’re new, and just practicing, break out the good stuff more maximum results.

How to paint water with watercolors

Step-by-step guide for how to paint water with watercolors

Below you will find fun facts about painting water. Be sure to take a moment and compare the tips and techniques with the images. Look closely and study how each idea can help you plan your next watercolor masterpiece.

Facts about painting water

  • Water is a surface just like grass, concrete, asphalt, and so on
  • In most cases, you should include cast shadows and reflections when painting water
  • Still water such as ponds, will reflect more
  • Seas, oceans and bubbling creeks, or and moving water, do not have reflections
  • An object’s reflection is slightly darker in value than real life color(s)
  • Sky and cloud colors are also slightly darker
  • Colors tend to get lighter in value and less saturated as it moves into the distance
How to paint water with watercolor- artist: Edward Seago
– How to paint water with watercolor- artist: Edward Seago
Sparkle example
– Sparkle example, source Andy Evansen

Water is a surface

In most cases water with receive reflections and cast shadows. Sky, clouds, trees, and shrubs are some examples of things that can be seen in water reflections. With still ponds and lakes, reflections are more crisp. The more water moves, or has current, the less reflective qualities it will have.

Seas and oceans are examples of non-reflective surfaces. The choppy waves and deep waters make it impossible. Cast shadows can come from a variety of sources such as boats, trees, and buildings.

Water can sparkle as well. These flecks of light shimmering across waves, and lakes make a great way to add finishing touches.

How to paint water with watercolor- artist: Edward Wesson
Source – Edward Wesson
Ocean example
– Ocean example, source Unsplash

How to choose the right color

One of the first things you need to do when painting water is to choose the right color. The first tip is to use a color that is slightly darker than the sky. The only exception would be seas and oceans because they have so many waves it doesn’t reflect.

For a calm, still pond, you will want a light blue or green color. If you are painting rough seas, however, you will need darker blues and greens to create the illusion of movement.

Once you have chosen your color, it is time to start painting. The best way to start is by evaluating the sky first. This will give you a base to work from and will help create the illusion of depth.

Simple water example using gradated wash

Easy water using gradated washes

If you want to explore how to paint water for beginners, then start simple! The idea here is to create a gradated wash using a hue that is slightly darker than the sky. Colors tend to become less saturated as they move into the distance. To capture this effect increase color intensity and the was reaches bottom of the paper.

how to paint simple sunset and water with watercolors

How to paint a simple sunset and water with watercolors

Next, try painting a landscape painting with sunset and calm body of water. This is perfect for exploring how to create more complex washes, all the while practicing color mixing and value hierarchy. For best results use wet-in-wet washes and try to perfect the timing. If you apply paint too soon into a wet surface it will bleed too much. Too late and it has stiff edges.

Simple harbor with boat, painted with watercolors

How to paint harbor and boats with watercolors

Another beginner-friendly idea for painting a harbor with boat and pier. Much of the painting is done with wet-in-wet techniques. Notice the mix of horizontal and diagonal brushstrokes for the sky. The water hue is slightly darker, too.

Use thicker paint into the wet wash for distant land mass and hills. This consistency doesn’t bleed as much as thinner mixtures. Splash raw umber where the pier is and allow everything to dry.

Note that the white boat is left untouched, paint this last. Add finishing details once the wash has dried.

How to paint simple waterfall with watercolors

How to paint simple waterfall

You can easily paint a waterfall with watercolor using negative space techniques. It starts with a pale wash using cerulean blue in the sky being sure to keep waterfall area untouched.

Allow the wash to dry before painting various earthy tones using yellow ochres, burnt sienna and a touch of ultramarine blue. Keep waterfall clear of any paint!

Add the trees into the wash with a cool gray. Allow everything to dry again before painting the darkest tonnes which are the foreground trees.

How to paint a pond with reflections using watercolors

How to paint an advanced water scene with pond with reflections

This one is more complex, but certainly doable. It all starts with a gradated wash using pale blue for the sky. Allow the wash to cover paper and paint slightly darker color for water area. Use a cool gray to indicate distant hills into the wet wash.

Allow the wash to dry all the way before painting yellow field. This need to dry before taking the next step which is painting middle-ground trees and bushes. Use a variety of burnt siennas, yellow ochres and greens to add them.

Go ahead and paint distant trees and cast shadows using pale gray hues. Trees in the middle-ground can be painted with same hue, but darker and more saturated. Allow this to dry before add details using darker hues.

Maine waterscape using watercolors


As you can see, painting water can be a lot of fun and the results can be quite stunning. With a little practice, you too can create beautiful paintings of water that will amaze your friends and family!

How did we do? Please leave a comment below if you would like to share your thought on this article, or if you have any questions.