Painting water is always a challenge. What you're really painting is reflections and the patterns made by wind. But light shifts, making shadows and reflections change. The wind makes boats bob about and the surface of the water do all kinds of things. Sometimes clouds come along and alter the scene completely. So here's a five-minute tutorial on the basics of painting reflections. One of my students asked me for help sketching a boat bobbing away on the water a few days ago, so I did a lightning-fast sketch to show her how I would tackle it.
1. First, get your drawing right. We all know boats are long, but seen from the back, they are very short indeed. Make mental measurements to help get it right - hold your pencil at arm's length as a measuring tool if you must, or do what I do, and ask yourself "how big is the top part of the boat compared to the stern?" etc.
2. Decide what colour you're going to paint the stern. I mixed phthalo green with burnt umber to take the bright edge from the green. Paint it. If the top surface of the boat is in sunlight, try leaving it unpainted altogether. It will have the effect of appearing to be in strong light.
3. See if there are any dark blacks, like the gloom inside the boat itself. Avoid using black (always!) - I mixed rich indigo with a touch of burnt umber. I kept it almost undiluted to give that really gloomy, shadowed effect. I'm always conscious of my values - how dark each colour is with respect to its surroundings.
4. Now for the water. Sketch out a wobbly shape under the boat to represent the reflection on a moving, rippling surface. Repeat a few ripples away from the main reflection. Make sure to leave lots of white spaces in between. Next, decide what colour the reflection is. I mixed phthalo green with indigo and burnt umber. Make sure the stern of the boat is dry - and paint the reflection.
5. Are there any shadows around the top of the boat? If there are, paint them in. This will serve to make the prow of the boat really stand out.
Remember, my sketches are always about drama, and to achieve that I always look for contrast.
Now step away from the photos, out you go and find some water to paint!