Painting water

Winter Ditch
4" x 36" oil on panel

Water is one of those subjects that can strike fear into some artists.  "It's too difficult."  "I could never do that". are phrases I have heard many times.  And for less experienced artists, its true.  When you first look at a scene, your eye takes in the varying values, colours, forms, and light.  The scene seems enormous and daunting.

So how do you make it more approachable?

When choosing a subject, I use a viewfinder to limit the area I'm looking at and make a good composition that fits the shape of the canvas or paper I'm using.  If using a camera, you're pretty much doing the same thing by honing in on an area or scene, with the advantage that you can have multiple views and choose from them later.

I make a small thumbnail drawing of what I want to paint.  If it has the right shape, correct amount of dark, mid and light values and I like it.  I go on to creating a colour study.  The colour study helps me confirm my palette and colours and set the final seal of approval on deciding if I'll go larger.

What colour is water?  It is every colour.  It reflects everything around it, in it, under it and above it, depending on the light level its seen in.  Sunny days give strong reflections of the world, overcast days have diffused light so colours and values must be adjusted accordingly.

I use a split primary palette of a warm and cool version of blue, red and yellow, along with white and an earth colour.  I occasionally add another colour, depending on what I believe the painting needs.

Starting with an under drawing to guide placement, I build slowly, as with any painting.  When something seems difficult, the mind really is saying that it will take more time than usual to complete and this is very true.  As with any difficult task, working through a little at a time is the way to success.  Its very much like a puzzle; finding the right colour, value and stroke to make everything fall into place.  And most importantly, painting what you see.
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