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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > FREE Sample Issue > Paint movement in water

Paint movement in water

To paint something that is constantly on the move you need to use a few special techniques. Paul Riley shares his knowledge of some methods that will help you to achieve movement in your watercolour paintings

Two major factors that affect water surface are wind and current. Wind blowing over the surface will agitate and produce anything from small ripples to giant waves. Current is caused by a) a body of water moving down hill, b) the influence of the sun and moon by the way of tides. Tidal movement is most noticeable at the seashore or on a river. Brooks and streams are the places to see rippling downward movement.

Tonal shapes

It is a misconception to think that arbitrarily swishing a brush around will produce the necessary effects of water in movement. In fact specific brushes and strokes are called for, ideally kolinsky sable and good quality squirrel. When applying the brushwork you are delineating the shadows cast by the wave or ripple, whose form is liquid as opposed to ragged. I suggest you try the strokes first in monochrome before overlaying in different colours. The main thing to keep in the mind is the direction of movement, therefore the brushstrokes should emulate this. Hold the brush in a relaxed manner to go with the flow – the strokes describe the tonal forms by the way of small accents or sinewy striations.

Wind ruffles are painted with deft touches using the tip of a highly responsive sable brush. Note that the strokes form patterns across the water. They are not monotonous but vary with the wind changing direction and speed. Note also the perspective: strokes are finer and less distinct in the distance; larger and well defined in the foreground. Movement in water caused by boats, people and animals including birds and fish adds depth and interest to an image. Ripples split into different shapes, bifurcating, trifurcating and interlocking with one another. Again these strokes are worth practising. When looking at flowing water that swirls and eddies around rocks etcetera, the sinuous flow lines are long and very descriptive. They interlock and separate to indicate the force and flow of water. When a very large body of water such as a wave thunders onto a beach the roll of the wave is indicated as a series of striations wrapping around its form. The trickiest form to paint is the wave that comes towards you as the shape is foreshortened. I find a fan brush very useful for this kind of stripy stroke.

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About The Artist

Paint lively watercolour landscapes using the hard and soft edge technique, learn how to capture the movement of water in your watercolours, become a wedding sketchographer, depict the figure in pastels, improve your compositional know-how, develop your colour-mixing skills - all this and much more in this month's issue! Hazel Soan encourages you to you paint informal portraits, BBC1's The Big Painting Challenge winner Suman Kaur shares her top ten tips learnt during the series and David Gould explains how he combines digital and traditional techniques to create contemporary artworks. Soraya French is back to invite you to discover the joy of mark making and create a mixed-media landscape, whilst Jake Winkle reveals the importance of interpreting your subject for more creative results. Charles Williams talks about the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Ian Sidaway tests the new Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour Paper range, Glyn Macey shows how Andy Warhol's work can inspire new approaches, and Adebanji Alade offers his regular motivational tips to keep you painting with energy and confidence. Enjoy!