Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Painting Water

I get a lot of nice comments on how I paint water so first a special thanks to all those who have given me this feedback. I take water seriously. It not only sustains life but in my part of the world it is a normal component of landscape painting. I live in Ontario, Canada and we have 10's of thousands fresh water lakes, many quite small and a few very large including (the northern shores of) all the Great Lakes.

Water reflects its surroundings and the sky overhead so the manner in which you treat it is totally dependent on this and the speed of it's flow. I want to show you some close ups of a few of my paintings while providing some insight on how the water was painted. You can see the original paintings on my website that can be accessed via "About Me" to the right.

Fast and Loose

Here's details from two of my waterfalls paintings. You can click on the images to view an enlargement. Each depicts the same waterfall but from a different angle. "The Wild One" is one of my favourite paintings.

Detail - The Wild One
After blocking in the main shapes with a soft 2" watercolour brush that I like to use for blending, I put down a substantial wash of Paynes Gray and Titanium White where all the water is located. I normally don't use a retarder so working fast while still wet I started to lightly blend in the falling water over the rock shapes, picking up both colours on the flat edges of the brush and applying it to canvas with shape and movement to accentuate the underlying rock bed . Fast and lose is the key here with acrylics and it's the quickness that helps to provide the character of the rushing water. This takes a lot of practice and some happy accidents.

I let it dry thoroughly at this stage and usually move onto another area of the painting or set it aside and work on another one. I normally have 3-5 paintings going on at the same time.

After it dries I go back over the mid value areas with the same mix with a bit of Cobalt Blue to further define the falling water. Small highlights of gray/white mixture and pure Titanium White in very strategic spots create the stronger currents and foam accents.

Detail - Master of His Domain
In this detail of a different painting you can see how the water was shaped around and over the rocks that were painted first. It's important to remember that water is transparent so water over rocks can be indicated, not painted, by a light wash and a few highlights to simulate it catching the light.

In this detail you can also see, to the right, how a loose and lightly applied dry brush effect in select areas can give the illusion of spray. I pick a full brush of undiluted paint up and dab a lot of it off on a rag, then slowly, with a very loose grip on the end of the brush handle, drag it ever so lightly over the canvas. You can see the start of this painting on the video located in the News & events page in my website

Still Waters and Shore

Detail - Fine Day, Algoma
 In this example I used four different blues plus purple in varying values glazed on top of each other to create the back to foreground perspective, water depth illusion and light wind action. Working fast from back to front I blocked in each blue in a light glazes over their respective places in the scene. I then lightly blended them  together to soften the edges. After this dries I gradually add more washes of colour straight from the tube over the whole scene. I then add a bit of white and drag this glaze over the areas that I want lighter, making sure that the darker areas get less paint. It's this light over dark effect that gives my water its' illusion of depth and movement in this type of subject. The waves, put on with a lighter blue over the darker section in a slight curve show how wind movement can be a quick brush stroke away.

Detail -  Windy Day, Nils Bay
When painting my lake scenes I will use a lot of transparent washes of different colours to achieve depth and the illusion of wetness as illustrated here in this close-up of the waves drawing up and down on the beach. This is a detail of a large painting and I used #6 and #12 brushes to scumbling in the beach sand with Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. Over this I glazed many very diluted washes of Ultramarine, Cobalt and Cerulean blues. After each glaze I added a lighter wash of Raw Umber in strategic places and covered this with more washes of blue, remembering that I wanted to cover a beach that also had shape.

Shaped highlights of lighter blues, with a bit of white added to the wash, were dragged over the beach with a lot of thoughtful movement to show wave shape, direction and wet sand. After many passes like these it all comes together - hopefully! If not I just paint over it and try again. 

 You can see these original paintings on my web site that can be accessed via "About Me" to the right.

Next time - Shore Reflections in Water. 

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