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How to Draw Water in Pencil
Water. It is the most majestic element in nature. There is nothing more meditative or soothing than the rhythmic sound of waves crashing on a beach, or the soft rippling of a small stream. There are oceanscapes, harbors, piers, reflections, seashores, rivers, streams, waterfalls, lakes and even just puddles.
Our water landscape possibilities are endless. But without the tools to understand how to draw water, we become overwhelmed as to the task of how we’re suppose to draw it!! All those ripples, waves, reflections….oh my!! So we put our favorite scenes away, hoping to be braver another day. Does that sound familiar?
The goal of this lesson is two fold – we are going to explore how to draw water, but more importantly we are going to review the process of observation, analysis and interpretation, the “tools” that will allow us to draw any subject matter, no matter how complex.
That’s a pretty tall order, but I think we can accomplish it.
The Power of Observation.
Before I got brave enough to pick up my pencil in 2002, I spent a couple years just looking. I got my first digital camera and started to take photos of everything. I began to open my eyes and look around me. It is amazing what you see when you really start “looking”.
“The more you look, the more you see. The more you see, the more you understand.”
To experience a landscape you must visually, mentally, emotionally and physically observe it.
Not all of us have the opportunity to draw plein air (on location). So we use photographs. We need to be aware of the limitations of using photographs. One of these short-comings is It flattens the view to 2-dimensions. You can’t see what is tucked behind an object. If you didn’t take the photograph -you have to take additional steps to ‘become connected” to a scene. You need to mentally envision walking through your scene. Do research…look at various reference photos at different angles to help you “understand” what you are looking at. Feel the textures, feel the wind on your face, or the spray of water at your feet. This “understanding” what you are seeing, is the power of observation.
So let’s look at our first image. Courtesy of Aleksandra Freeman . Aleksandra captured a beautiful swan swimming. The swan is so simple and I’m itching to draw it, but oh that water and reflections! How do we begin?
We know it is water, we know it is fluid, transparent and reflective. We know the swan is swimming in the water and we know we are seeing the swan’s reflections in the water. We KNOW all of this from the first step – observation.
This step is to analyze what we are seeing in the image. By breaking this image down into smaller sections. We can identify ‘clues’ that will help us draw the characteristics of water that makes it…water.
By changing our focus to just the water and looking at it in an “abstract” format, it will allow us to analyze just what we are “SEEING”.
I cropped the image so we can concentrate on the water reflections. I posterized the image (a Photoshop feature) to reduce the number of values seen and turned the photo into grayscale. I am abstracting and simplifying the image.
Now it doesn’t look overwhelming – I can now study the movement of the waves, the shapes, and the values. I have broken this complex image into simple shapes and values. I have reduced this into something I can grasp.
I can do sketches at this point to identify the most prominent waves, I can map out my values for my composition. This is the analysis stage that helps me grasp what I am looking at.
CAUTION: Do not create your final drawing from this stage. Your drawing will take on these qualities of abstractness, lifelessness and looking flat.
Here is the step that is the most exciting and where each artist’s interpretation immerges. Let’s return to B&W image of the swan. Does it look less overwhelming now? To me, the water is now nothing more than values and shapes.
But since we don’t want to just draw “values and shapes”, we need to interpret and decide what clues to include. It is just as important to decide what not to include as well. Things to consider is what is the focus of the drawing? Is it the swan or the reflection of the swan? We don’t want to over-emphasize the reflections if the swan is the focal point.
We’ve done our preliminary observation and analysis of our subject matter. The interpretation is the where the creative license of the artist begins!
Try your hand at drawing the swan and the water reflections. Study the image, see what you can find as ‘clues’ that will help provide the viewer to recognize that this swan is swimming in water.
OR Choose your own photo reference with reflections in the water. Boats and harbors are wonderful subject matters.
Post your results and your ideas of this process. Did it help? What clues did you discover?
Oceans & Waves
Not all landscapes involve up-close images such as the swan swimming. Ocean or seascapes require a completely different type of interpretation and representation.
This might seem a bit simplistic, but no matter how I try to illustrate how to draw water, I seem to end up with this approach. Do you remember your first drawing of a boat in water? Remember that one line of waves under that boat? Well, that’s basically the pencil stroke I use!!
Here is an example of the horizontal rocking back and forth, overlapping my strokes. The strokes are much smaller and shorter for the distant waves. By concentrating on the under shadows of the waves, my water seems to just appear.
Try drawing waves. This image keeps these to a minimum and just a splash on the rocks. It’s a simple composition but looks can be deceiving!!
This reference photo is courtesy of scratchboard artist, Karen Hendrickson of Oregon. Iowa doesn’t have any oceans, so Karen keeps me stocked with beautiful photos from her own “backyard”.
Here is the completed seascape.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to draw water in pencil by Diane Wright.
Drawing oceans, lakes, seascapes, and ponds
When you draw water as part of a landscape, first determine what’s happening on the water’s surface. Is it a calm ocean with gentle waves beneath a cloud-dotted sky? Is it a placid lake with the barest of ripples? Is it a storm-tossed sea? Regardless of the state of your waterscape, remember that it is always dynamic.
Even the calmest and most peaceful lake or ocean will have some movement and play with light in some way. When you draw water, you also draw how light plays on water. “Know your light source and stick to your light source,” says artist and illustrator Alyssa Newman. With water, that light source will usually be the sun or moon, but it can also be the lights from a ship, city, or lighthouse. Remember what direction the light is coming from, how intense the light is, and how the light bends and plays over the water’s surface.
Keep reflections in mind.
“If you’re illustrating an ocean or other body of water,” says Newman, “often you want that body of water to reflect the sky a little bit.” A bright blue sky obviously won’t have a dark ocean beneath it. Rather, an ocean under a summer sky will be only slightly darker than that sky, but still vivid.
If your watery surface reflects elements like trees or people, think about how the water moves and where your light source comes from. The relative stillness or motion of the water will inform how distorted your reflection is, and the direction and intensity of the light source will affect any flares or flashes on that reflection. Reflections in water are transparent and shadowy, so use more muted colors to show that.
Water Soluble Crayons in Action
Now, let’s take a look at how these crayons behave. Besides the crayons themselves, other materials used during this product test include:
- A 3/4 inch flat nylon brush
- A round sable brush
- A natural sponge
- 140 lb hot press watercolor paper
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Since this is a new medium to me, I did a quick test (below) just to wrap my mind around the capabilities of this medium.
In the first test, I applied the crayon without any activation (adding water). You can see, in the image below left, that the texture of the paper is very evident.
To the right, you can see that I activated the crayon by layering water. The top of this swatch is fully saturated, eradicating much of the visible texture of the paper. Half-way down, I lessened the amount of water added. This resulted in a texture that was somewhere between the two. The texture of the paper is still visible, but to a lesser degree. This result is very similar to what we see with watercolor pencils.
See also: How to Use Watercolor Pencils
In my second test, I wanted to see how far I could extend the medium with water. I decided to draw a sphere. As you can see below, I only added the crayon medium to area of core shadow on the sphere. Using a bit of water, I was able to extend the medium to cover much more of the surface.
You can see from the above swatches that the crayons, when used without water, create a broken mark typical of traditional wax crayons. Using a brush dipped in water, one can entirely dissolve the individual marks or, with a delicate touch, only soften the marks made using the dry crayons.
How to Draw a Pool of Water
- The application of oil pastels is an effective way to draw a pool of water or swimming pool.
- To begin your drawing prepare a piece of card or heavy duty card to work on.
- Draw a grid from which you will be able to and apply areas of tone and shadow.
- Begin by applying the basic shapes and colors of your composition down onto the top surface of your drawing.
- Once all of the primary areas of color are applied to the surface including the reflections and highlights, begin to render the edges of the shadow.
- Continue with these tasks until all of the colors have an even looking surface.
Working with Water Soluble Crayons Conclusion
As you can see, this medium is quite versatile and provides the artist with a variety of ways it can be used. It’s unique but reminds me a bit of watercolor pencils. The methods and approaches are quite similar, as are the results.