Tips For Drawing Water, Waves and Ripples

How to Draw Water
How to Draw Water

Water can be challenging to draw due to its continual change and movement. If you are looking for some simple drawing techniques that will help you draw and sketch the water’s surface?

The following post will outline some simple methods to help draw water simply and easily.

How do you draw water and waves? The drawing and sketching of water can be learned quite quickly if you follow a simple step by steps plan. Observe and analyze the surface, select an appropriate technique and interpret your subject according to that method.


How to Draw Water

The calming and mediate the effect of the surface of the water can be experienced in many ways. Be it the sound of waves crashing into the shore or the gentle sound of a water fountain.

The fluid nature of water makes its a wonder to behold, and one of the main reasons why artists have sought to draw, paint and represent it in many ways.

The drawing and sketching of shadows on the water can be difficult for those of us who have never attempted it. The reflection of light, the application of tone and color seems to present the artists with a real challenge.

The following tips will provide you with a clear outline on how to draw water.

Choose Your Medium you want to Draw With

The illustration of water or light and shadows cast onto the surface of the water can be illustrated in many different artistic mediums.

Select materials that you are familiar with and use to working with. Read my post about the Artists Basic Equipment List.

Graphite and charcoal pencils are an excellent choice as you will be able to produce immediate marks on the paper. They will also enable you to create different sizes and types of marks quickly. Conveying distance and the angle and spacing between the waves can easily be achieved with graphite and charcoal. The following charcoal pencil set offers excellent value, click here.

Ink and water is another suitable material which will let you drawing waves quickly and immediately. Creating the rhythm and fluidity of the surface of a stream or lake can be formed using inks diluted with water.

Observe the Surface of Water

A problem that most people have when drawing water is that it continually moves and changes. To overcome the difficulties in interpreting the surface of the water, the waves, and reflections. My advice is to simplify the process into a series of large and small marks.

The marks that you will draw will represent the waves and the shadows created by the waves.
Draw large marks in the foreground, there will be darker.
An important rule is that marks drawn in the foreground should be more intense than those illustrated in the background.
Drawing smaller marks in the midground and progress onto adding smaller dots.

Draw From a Photographic Reference

A Photography reference is an effective way to isolate sections of a complex image an reduce the range of values you intend to draw.
Look carefully at your subject and study the reflections and colors on the surface.

To help you see areas on the water which have reflections. Take a simple digital photograph.

  • Create a black and white photograph as this will allow you to reduce the number of values in the picture.
  • The next stage is to crop the image. This is a simple technique which will let you look at one section of the image in isolation.
  • Cropping the image will also allow you to focus on the values and ripples on the surface of the water.

Basic Rules of Drawing Reflections in Water

A basic rule that you will need to follow when drawing reflections on the water, are that objects that are above the water will be lighter when drawn as reflections in the water.
Subjects which are lighter and seem pale on land in your drawing will need to be rendered darker in the water.
Consider the density of the different sections of the darker, as water is denser than the air above it.

Experimental Techniques to Draw  Water

Creating surface texture onto which you can draw reflections on the water is an effective way to create more preliminary drawings.

One technique that works well with tonal graphite drawing is to layer tissue paper.

  • First, collect some good quality white card or cartridge paper.
  • Collect some thin tissue paper and tear it into horizontal strips and irregular shapes and sizes.
  • Once you have finished preparing your paper. Begin to paste it to the surface of your card.
  • To speed up the process of drying, you can use a drying tool to dry the surface of your college.
  • The process of creating a textural surface onto which you can apply tone can be taken a stage further by working onto the surface with a piece of sandpaper.
  • Use the sandpaper to create areas of texture.
  • Repeat the process once or twice until you are satisfied with the result.
  • You can now begin the process of applying tone and shading with a graphite stick.
  • The same process of drawing marks of various sizes can be applied to the surface of the sheet.
  • Use a soft grade pencil applied at an angle or a graphite stick. Again, with larger marks in the foreground and smaller marks drawn in the mid and background areas.
  • Look at finished by the artist Ian Murphy.

Drawing Reflections on Water

To visualize the fluid nature of water and now the environmental conditions affect how it moves and looks.

You can draw different shapes and sizes of waves to convey shadow and reflections.

To draw a reflection on the water, you will need to begin by drawing the basic outline of the object above the surface of the water.

Draw the objects shape faintly and once finished, bring your attention to drawing the refection directly beneath it.

Repeat drawing the same shape and proportions except it should be drawn in reverse.

Once you have completed drawing the outline shapes, begin to add more detail onto your reflection. You are now ready to begin shading.

If the refection you are trying to represent is on rippled water, you can convey this using oval-shaped lines and shading.

To begin to add more detail to the refection, you can need to blur the details of the image with a blending stick.

How to Draw Ocean Water

This is the type of wave that can be found on the coastline or with a surfer riding a wave. Follow these steps to draw a basic concave wave in pencil.

  • To complete this drawing, you will need a good quality HB pencil, blending stick and eraser. You can also use a mechanical pencil.
  • Draw and establish the horizon line this can be drawn at a slight angle.
  • Progress onto the drawing and defining the top and bottom of the waves with a faint line.
  • As you are drawing with a single line, the lines drawn at the front of the image will be darker than the waves depicted in the background.
  • The next stage is to apply an underlying layer of shading to each of the waves, these can then be blended together with the blending stick. This will begin to form the appearance of shadows.
  • Darker shading is now.

How to Draw an Ocean Wave

Pen and ink is a medium which lends itself particularly well to the drawing and sketching of reflections and the surface of the water. Ballpoint pens, as well as fine line nips, are all great for drawing precise lines.

  • To draw a basic drawing of a wave in pen follows this simple technique.
  • Draw a curved line which dips towards the end, this is a basic shape onto which the details of the wave will be built upon.
  • Next, draw a concave C shape under the crest of the wave.
  • Draw a smaller irregular line which will represent the whitewash foam.

How to Draw a Water Waves

Water lends itself particularly well to the stylized drawing of waves in the linear form. Combining a mixture of bold and finely drawn lines can result in a range of aesthetically pleasing images.

  • To draw a wave in line form, you will need an HB pencil and a fine line pen for drawing with.
  • Use the pencil, to draw a series of repeating shapes which drawn in sequences and at different scales.
  • Once you have achieved the desired results of a drawing

Artists Inspired by Water

Waves Breaking by Claudia Monet. This is a dramatic coastline painting that depicts waves crashing onto the beach. Painted in an impressionist style the picture incorporates a range of blues and greens to convey the energy and movement of waves as they hit a rock line on the Normandy coast.
Monets sketches of water are also well worth a look if you are research artists who draw water.

David Hockney painted ‘A Bigger Splash,’ in a Californian swimming pool in 1967. Hockney is well known for his bold and colorful acrylic painting. Hockney focus in this painting is a splash of water in a swimming pool. Painted in a range of different tones of pale blue with areas of flat color dripped paint and brushwork.

The Wave painted by Maggie Hambling. Hambling has produced a series of compelling paintings based on the power and grandeur of waves and sea. Hambling is fascinated by the everchanging character of the sea, its energy sounds and everchanging mood.

When interviewed about her painting Hambling said she was trying to paint the sound of the sea. With each individual wave having its own character.  Hambling is also inspired by erosion and the seas effect on the land over time.

Ian Murphy is a contemporary graphite artist who has experimented widely with both the drawings of reflections, seascapes and abstraction. Murphy’s drawings are predominately created using graphite pencils, graphite powder, and blending sticks.

He produces drawings and sketches from direct observation, which are then taken back to the studio and developed into larger pictures and artwork.

Related Questions

How to Draw Water with Colored Pencils

  • Select a range of different shades of blue and green. Prismacolors are ideal for applying color click here to read the latest reviews and check prices.
  • The advantage of using color pencils is that they can be built up in layers.
  • Begin by applying the light layer of horizontal color across the page, remember that you will shade with bright color and then apply darker shades of blue over the first layer.
  • Take a darker shade of tone and begin to apply color pencil to the horizon remembering that this will be the most shaded area on the page.
  • When holding the pencil’s shade at an angle and progressively built up
  • Remember that if the reflections of the sun and clouds will need to be rendered on the paper.
  • Continue to build up dark shades of blue using short horizontal strokes of color.
  • Use a good quality vinyl eraser to lift some of the pigment off the surface of the page. When doing this, you need to use a curved motion to depict the movement of the waves in the ocean.
  • Progress onto applying darker green onto the background area of the horizon, again remember to use the pencil at an angle.
  • Next, to increase the contrast of different shade of blue and green, take a dark blue shadow and apply tone to the horizon and add definition to the white spaces created by the eraser.
  • Finally, use a white color pencil to blend white into the blank spaces and layers over the different shades of blue and green.

How to Draw Water Ripples

  • To successfully draw water ripples I would advise that you begin with a simple line drawing onto which you will be able to apply shade and tone.
  • Water ripples are formed by any kind of disturbance on the surface of the water. When an object breaks the surface tension of the water.
  • To draw water ripples begin by, draw a focal point. This point is basically where the water ripples start.
  • The center of the ripple will take the form of a small elliptical drawn shape, which is basically a circle in perspective.
  • Next, to reproduce the effect of the ripple growing, draw another larger ellipse outside the first shape, this pancake-like shape will progressively become more extensive as it becomes larger and moves away from the focal point.
  • However, the lines closest to the center point should we drew closer together?
  • As the ripple grow, draw a broken discontinued line the represent the water ripples fanning out in different directions.
  • The next stage is to apply shading and tone to your drawing in the spaces created by drawing the ripples. Apply a darker shade of pencil to draw shadow in these spaces.
  • Finally, you can draw an object in the center of the ripple. This has the effect of making the drawing look a little more realistic. The object can be a stone, fish or an imaginary character of your choice.

How to Draw a Pool of Water

  • The application of oil pastels is an effective way to draw a pool of water or swimming pool.
  • To begin your drawing prepare a piece of card or heavy duty card to work on.
  • Draw a grid from which you will be able to and apply areas of tone and shadow.
  • Begin by applying the basic shapes and colors of your composition down onto the top surface of your drawing.
  • Once all of the primary areas of color are applied to the surface including the reflections and highlights, begin to render the edges of the shadow.
  • Continue with these tasks until all of the colors have an even looking surface.

My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I really like Udemy if you are looking to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounted deals for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical easel way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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10 Tips for Drawing Water, Waves and Ripples