Shimmering Water Effects

Shimmering Water Effects Make Striking Watercolour Paintings

We had a fine Sunday afternoon at Fairlop Water in East London and I was requested to go into some details to how I produced the shimmering effect of water on my coastal paintings. We were in the ideal setting and so the commentary, instructions and finished demo watercolour painting are what I produced on the afternoon.

Try this yourself – you don’t need the coastal or water scenery in front of you – just use your imagination (or have a go at copying some of my watercolour paintings).

Start With A Sketch

I began  with a pencil sketch. With the horizon about one-third of the way up the paper.

I wet the paper using clean clear water, quickly with long sweeping brush-strokes (using a mop)

I mixed up some blue-grey watercolour mix and painted in the sky area leaving white patches.

While the sky area was drying I decided to paint in the foreground.

Re-use The Existing Paint On Your Palette

For the colour of the foreground I wanted some light sandy colour and for this I was going to add paint to my existing grey-blue paint.

Note that this re-use of my existing paint in effect “burns bridges” with your previous colour on the paper – but after all, you have used what you want and you are not going to go back and repaint and of the area you have already covered. So this is a process I would recommend rather than mixing up a fresh batch of colour.

In fact, to the existing blue-grey colour I added some yellow ochre and some brown.

Vary The Colours In Strength And Intensity

When I applied it to the foreground I did not want a uniform  colour so made the colour stronger and more intense in the areas towards the bottom of the paper – nominally the area that in real life would be nearer to the viewer.

I then added some dry-brush technique to give the image more of a rougher texture.

After the foreground was complete I was ready to put in the area of water and for this I mixed up some paint with a similar consistency to that I had used for the sky.

Painting The Water

When painting areas of water like this it is necessary to be bold and fearless in your approach – the technique is to use a large brush heavily loaded with paint and then to sweep in across the paper in a firm stroke in one complete action so that the area is not one hundred percent covered but small areas of white show through – that’s what produces the sparkle effect. It is necessary to have several of these loaded strokes one after the other in parallel until the area you want is covered. But don’t overdo it or you will lose the sparkle effect!

As the water comes nearer to the viewer I will make the wash thicker adding a grey-blue colour by mixing in blue and brown to the original mixture I was using and painting this on with wide horizontal strokes.

Now I let it dry.

Final Effects

Next I strengthened the foreground (now dry) by adding a darker shade with a gravy-like mix of brown and blue. I applied this in quick horizontal strokes  (leaving the characteristic small gaps in the paint) to represent sand or shingle. Also in the foreground I added a tree as a feature which also has an additional benefit of framing the main content of the painting when the viewer looks at it.

Coastal Scene With Shimmering Water
Coastal Scene With Shimmering Water

Another Painting From The Same Session

While my students painted their own versions of watercolour paintings with shimmering water effects, I took a back seat and had time to paint another coastal scene with the same effects.

Shimmering Water - another demo by Ray painted at Fairlop Water
Shimmering Water – another demo by Ray painted at Fairlop Water