Watercolor Techniques: How to Watercolor Water

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 10 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Welcome to our watercolor tutorial on how to paint water! Water is a complex subject in watercolor painting, but with the right techniques and a bit of practice, you can capture its beauty and realism on paper. In this guide, we will walk you through step-by-step instructions and share valuable tips to help you create stunning watercolor water in your paintings.

Watercolor techniques are essential for achieving the desired effect when painting water. Whether you’re aiming for calm, reflective lakes or crashing ocean waves, understanding how to use washes, shadows, and highlights will bring your watercolor water to life.

Throughout this tutorial, we will cover the necessary supplies, provide a detailed step-by-step guide, and share additional tips for creating realistic water in watercolor. So grab your brushes, paints, and paper, and let’s dive into the world of watercolor water!

Key Takeaways:

  • Watercolor techniques are crucial for painting water realistically.
  • Practice and patience are essential to master the art of painting water in watercolor.
  • Understanding washes, shadows, and highlights will help create depth and perspective in watercolor water.
  • Investing in high-quality watercolor supplies will yield better results.
  • Experimentation and observation of real water sources will enhance your understanding of watercolor water.

Supplies You’ll Need

To paint water with watercolor, you will need the following supplies:

  1. Cold-pressed watercolor paper
  2. Indigo, ultramarine, and turquoise watercolor paint (or any blue shades you prefer)
  3. A flat wash brush
  4. A large round brush
  5. A smaller round brush (size 6 works well)
  6. White gouache/ink/acrylic for highlights
  7. Clean water

These supplies will help you create realistic water in your watercolor paintings.

Choosing the Right Supplies

To achieve the desired effect in your watercolor paintings, it’s important to use high-quality watercolor supplies. Here’s a breakdown of each item:

Supply Description
Watercolor paper Cold-pressed paper is recommended for watercolor as it has a textured surface that holds the paint well. It also allows for controlled lifting and blending.
Watercolor paint Indigo, ultramarine, and turquoise are popular choices for painting water. However, feel free to use other blue shades that suit your artistic vision.
Wash brush A flat wash brush is ideal for creating smooth and even color washes, which are essential for painting water. It has a wide brush head that holds a large amount of water and pigment.
Round brush Both a large round brush and a smaller round brush (size 6) are useful for adding details and creating different brushstrokes in your watercolor paintings.
White gouache/ink/acrylic Adding highlights to the water surface can be achieved with white gouache, ink, or acrylic. This helps create a sense of depth and realism in your artwork.
Clean water Having clean water is essential for maintaining the vibrancy and transparency of your watercolor paint. It’s recommended to have a separate container for clean water to prevent color contamination.
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Step-by-Step Tutorial: How to Paint Water with Watercolor

Painting water with watercolor can be a rewarding and captivating experience. In this step-by-step tutorial, we will guide you through the process of creating realistic and stunning water in your watercolor paintings. Follow along to learn the techniques and tips for painting water with watercolor.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

Before starting, gather all the necessary materials:

  • Cold-pressed watercolor paper
  • Indigo, ultramarine, and turquoise watercolor paint (or any blue shades you prefer)
  • Flat wash brush
  • Large round brush
  • Smaller round brush (size 6 works well)
  • White gouache/ink/acrylic for highlights
  • Clean water

Step 2: Create the Base Wash

Start by wetting the paper with clean water using the flat wash brush. Then, mix a medium tone of blue using indigo, ultramarine, and turquoise watercolor paints. Apply the mixed paint to the wet paper, allowing it to blend and flow naturally. This creates the base wash for your water.

Step 3: Add Shadows and Depth

Once the base wash is dry, use a slightly darker shade of blue to add shadows and depth to your water. Apply the darker paint to areas where you want to create the illusion of depth, such as the edges or ripples. Use the large round brush for broader strokes and the smaller round brush for finer details.

Step 4: Add Highlights and Reflections

To bring your water to life, add highlights and reflections using white gouache, ink, or acrylic paint. Use the smaller round brush to carefully paint thin lines or dots to represent the light hitting the water’s surface. These highlights create the illusion of sparkles and shimmer in your water.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Once your painting is dry, take a step back and assess the overall composition. Make any necessary adjustments to balance the tones, highlight focal points, or add additional details. Remember, the key to painting water with watercolor is to observe and study real water to capture its unique characteristics and effects.

“Watercolor allows you to capture the fluidity and transparency of water, creating breathtaking effects in your paintings.”

Now that you have learned the step-by-step process of painting water with watercolor, practice these techniques and unleash your creativity to create stunning water scenes in your artworks.

Step Description
Step 1 Prepare your materials
Step 2 Create the base wash
Step 3 Add shadows and depth
Step 4 Add highlights and reflections
Step 5 Finishing touches

Tips for Painting Realistic Water in Watercolor

Creating realistic water in watercolor paintings can be a challenging task, but with the right techniques and a few tips, you can achieve stunning results. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, these tips will help you enhance your watercolor skills and bring your water scenes to life.

1. Observe and Study Water

To paint realistic water, it’s crucial to observe and study its characteristics. Look at photographs or spend time near bodies of water to understand how light, reflections, and ripples interact with its surface. Take note of the colors, patterns, and textures that make water unique.

2. Start with a Light Wash

Begin your watercolor painting by applying a light wash of your chosen blue shades onto the paper. Gradually build up the layers, adding more pigment to create depth and variation. Remember to leave areas where you want to add highlights later.

3. Use Wet-on-Wet Technique

One effective way to depict the fluidity of water is by using the wet-on-wet technique. Wet the paper with clean water before applying the paint, allowing the colors to blend naturally and create soft edges. Experiment with different brushstrokes and color combinations to capture the movement of water.

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4. Incorporate Shadows and Highlights

Shadows and highlights add depth and dimension to your water scenes. Use darker shades of blue or complementary colors to create shadows where objects or waves cast their shadows on the water’s surface. Add highlights by lifting off paint or using white gouache/ink/acrylic to represent reflections or areas hit by direct light.

5. Create Texture with Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a technique that adds texture and visual interest to your watercolor paintings. Use a dry brush with less water and apply it lightly on the paper to create ripples, waves, or the textures found in rough water surfaces.

6. Experiment with Masking Fluid

Masking fluid is a useful tool to preserve areas of white paper when painting water. Apply the masking fluid on the areas you want to keep unpainted, such as highlights or foam. Once the paint dries, gently rub off the masking fluid to reveal the untouched areas.

7. Embrace the Unpredictability

Watercolor is known for its unpredictable nature, and water scenes are no exception. Embrace the spontaneous nature of the medium and allow for happy accidents. Let the paint flow and blend on the paper, creating organic shapes and textures that mimic the natural characteristics of water.

By following these tips and practicing regularly, you’ll gradually improve your ability to paint realistic water in watercolor. Don’t be afraid to experiment, learn from mistakes, and develop your own unique style. Enjoy the process of capturing the beauty and tranquility of water in your artwork.

Tips for Painting Realistic Water in Watercolor
Observe and Study Water
Start with a Light Wash
Use Wet-on-Wet Technique
Incorporate Shadows and Highlights
Create Texture with Dry Brushing
Experiment with Masking Fluid
Embrace the Unpredictability

Other Watercolor Techniques to Explore

In addition to painting water, there are numerous other watercolor techniques you can explore. These techniques allow you to experiment with different styles and create unique and captivating paintings. Here are some popular watercolor techniques:

  1. Wet-on-Wet: This technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface, allowing colors to blend together naturally. It creates soft and flowing effects, perfect for creating dreamy landscapes.
  2. Dry Brush: With the dry brush technique, you use minimal water on your brush, allowing for textured and detailed brushstrokes. This technique is great for adding intricate details or creating rough surfaces.
  3. Splash and Splatter: For a fun and dynamic effect, try splashing or splattering paint onto your paper. This technique can add energy and movement to your paintings, especially when depicting rain or splashing water.
  4. Masking Fluid: Using masking fluid, you can preserve areas of your paper to create highlights or protect certain sections from paint. This technique is commonly used to paint intricate details or maintain the white of the paper for a luminous effect.

Try combining these techniques or experimenting with different materials, such as salt or alcohol, to achieve unique textures and effects in your watercolor paintings.

By exploring these various watercolor techniques, you can develop your own style and discover new ways to express your artistic vision. Remember, practice and experimentation are key to mastering any painting technique.

Overview of Watercolor Techniques

Technique Description
Wet-on-Wet Apply wet paint onto a wet surface for blended effects.
Dry Brush Use minimal water on your brush for detailed and textured strokes.
Splash and Splatter Splash or splatter paint for a dynamic and energetic effect.
Masking Fluid Preserve areas with masking fluid for highlights or protection.
See also
Transparent Watercolors Guide: Best Picks & Tips

Watercolor Painting Supplies

When it comes to watercolor painting, having high-quality supplies is essential to achieve the best results. Here are the key items you’ll need:

  • Watercolor Paints: Invest in a set of professional-grade watercolor paints. Brands like Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, and Schmincke offer a wide range of vibrant colors that will bring life to your paintings.
  • Watercolor Paper: Choose cold-pressed watercolor paper for its texture and ability to absorb water. Brands like Arches, Fabriano, and Strathmore provide excellent options.
  • Paintbrushes: It’s important to have a variety of paintbrushes to achieve different effects. Consider getting wash brushes for large, smooth washes, round brushes for details and smaller areas, and synthetic brushes for special techniques. Escoda, Princeton, and Da Vinci are reputable brands to consider.

With these watercolor painting supplies in hand, you’ll be ready to create stunning artworks full of vibrant colors and delicate details. Remember to experiment and let your creativity flow!

Watercolor painting supplies are the foundation of your artistic journey. Choose high-quality paints, paper, and brushes to achieve the best results.


To master the art of painting water with watercolor, it is essential to dedicate time and effort to practice various techniques. By following the step-by-step tutorial and exploring different watercolor techniques, you will be able to create realistic and stunning water in your paintings. Remember to observe and study water in photographs to understand its movement and characteristics.

Foundational techniques like washes, ripples, and highlights will help you bring life to your watercolor water. Experimenting with different brush strokes and layering colors will add depth and dimension to your artwork. Keep in mind that patience is key, and with consistent practice, you will improve your skills over time.

Immerse yourself in the wonderful world of watercolor techniques, and enjoy the journey of creating captivating water in your paintings. Let your imagination flow, and let the transparency and fluidity of watercolor paint bring your artworks to life. With dedication and passion, you can become proficient in painting water with watercolor and create stunning masterpieces.


Is watercolor painting difficult?

Painting water in watercolor can be challenging, but with practice and patience, you can achieve realistic and beautiful results.

What supplies do I need to paint water with watercolor?

To paint water with watercolor, you will need cold-pressed watercolor paper, indigo, ultramarine, and turquoise watercolor paint (or any blue shades you prefer), a flat wash brush, a large round brush, a smaller round brush (size 6 works well), white gouache/ink/acrylic for highlights, and clean water.

How do I paint water with watercolor?

Follow these step-by-step instructions to paint water with watercolor: [Include step-by-step tutorial]

How can I make my watercolor water look realistic?

To achieve realistic water in your watercolor paintings, consider the following tips: [Include tips for painting realistic water]

What are some other watercolor techniques I can explore?

In addition to painting water, there are numerous other watercolor techniques you can explore. Some popular techniques include: [List other watercolor techniques]

What supplies do I need for watercolor painting?

The supplies you need for watercolor painting include high-quality watercolor paints, watercolor paper (preferably cold-pressed), and a variety of paintbrushes (such as wash brushes, round brushes, and synthetic brushes).

How can I master the art of painting water with watercolor?

Mastering the art of painting water with watercolor requires practice, patience, and experimentation with various techniques. By following the step-by-step tutorial and exploring different watercolor techniques, you can create realistic and stunning water in your paintings.