Reflections on the water
Water is one of the most popular painting, subjects, in water-colour
yet it isnít easy to get it right. One nice thing about water is that it
has rhythm in its movements and will generally repeat the sequence so
can catch that fleeting movements. Again.... and again.
Water like clouds is usually in motion so you must observe the way it
looks at one instance and catch that time on paper.
One thing that dawned on me over the years is just how little you
need to do when you are painting a river to make it look authentic whole
areas can be just as flat wash. Letís start with river. Imagine youíre
standing on the banks of the Kelani river.
Itís a large river with a smooth flow in an around youíll find boats
of all shapes and sizes, people bathing and some washing clothes. Their
size in relation to their surroundings gives a dramatic impression of
the sheer scale and grandeur of the natural world.
water reflects the real life
Always try to imagine the river as a soft mirror, reflecting
everything above it. Apart from when it is muddy and in flood a river
firstly reflects the colour of the sky, be it blue or stormy grey.
Secondly, it reflects the things that surround it trees, huts, earth,
and bridges all of course upside down.
I am a complete addict when it comes to painting water. When ever I
pass, a river, a stream or even a pond I have this irresistible urge to
stop and keep watching its movements, like any dog who can never pass a
lamp post without having an investigation.
Reflections in water
Reflections in particular can be confusing and are often not well
understood by many water colourists. Painting reflections in water takes
practice and close observation, novice painters usually come unstuck
because first they donít understand the way reflections behave and
second they are too timid in their approach. In the painting shown here,
I have titled Ďfloodsí. Notice the reflections of the huts, trees and
the distant houses. Even the calmest water is often disturbed by ripples
and current that break up and distort reflections, thus creating lovely
Here the reflections of the huts and the trees are rendered with dark
limpid washes that give a life like impression of the smooth gently
undulating surface of the water. I have emphasized the smooth glassiness
of the water through the use of strong contrasts of light and dark tone.
Transparent glazes are applied are on top of the other to build up
depth of tone and colour. Note how strong and well defined they are.
Observe its reflections and how it colours reflected object. Also how
the reflected light acts on the objects around it and the water coloured
because of its dirt content either yellowish or brownish.
The dark reflections should be done as quickly and decisively as
possible. On large stretches of water the surface it made very light
where itís farther away and dark in the foreground. This is because the
horizon reflects the low, lighter part of the sky, but close to the
shore the water picks up the darker colour from the sky above.
Also, because we are looking down at it, the fore ground water
transmits some of the colour of the bottom. With a large body of water
some parts of the surface are smooth while others are ruffled by wind.
Smooth water reflects the sky like a mirror but rough water picks up and
relays the light from any directions, either darker or lighter than the
sky depending on the prevailing conditions.
Water in a stream tumbles in some parts and flows in others. Watch
its movements very carefully for quite a long time and then try and
paint a generalization of this movement. Brushstrokes should follow the
action of the water. Donít put down every ripple because rushing water
looks much better when itís understated, and the absence of detail gives
an impression of rapid movement.
Open sea water
Open sea and crushing surf are in constant motion, but it recurring
movement, because of the agitated surface action, there is little if any
Open sea water has no colour of its own (itís clear) but reflects the
colour of the sky overhead. The rougher the water the darker the colour,
but seas are usually darker than the sky above.
Remember that the ocean is flat so you should keep your brush strokes
horizontal and not at various angles. Waves nearby appear greenish, as
do curling rollers. The white spray, splash, caps and surf can be masked
out at first to preserver the whiteness or can simply be left unpainted.
Main faults that crop up
What are the main faults that crop up?
Thereís no doubt at all about what is the most common fault, it is
over-elaboration, trying to put in every ripple and patch of light that
momentarily catches your eye, most of which move around with the breeze
any way. Itís even worse with flowing water.
One of the commonest faults in beginnerís paintings is that they
contain to many irrelevant and distracting details that dilute or even
destroy the message of the picture. The secret of painting water is to
Ďedit outí all the superfluous details and go for the bigger masses of
tone and colour. You have probably heard the saying ĎLess is moreí and
no where does this apply more readily than in the painting of water.
Achieving the smooth, glassy look of water requires surprisingly little
effort; often few sweeping strokes with abroad brush on damp paper are
enough to convey the effect you need.
You may leave much of the paper bare and pats in just a few telling
ripples and reflections, which are all thatís needed to spell Ďwaterí.