Drawing waves, splashes, and water in motion.
Almost any ocean or lake has waves. Sometimes those waves can be small, a few bits of motion upon a surface. “It’s almost like fabric blowing in the wind,” says illustrator and comic artist Jonathan Case. “That’s what the surface tension of water looks like.” That surface can flow gently or rapidly, but as it flows you can use bubbles and water ripples to communicate the motion. “If you want to communicate the flow of water, you need to pick areas where you have these nice, soft blowing lines interrupted by these shorter, bubbled areas,” says Case.
A calm, rippling surface, though, is often interrupted by waves and splashes. Those waves and splashes are not singular geometric shapes. They are complex, temporary, and always unique. “One of the most important things is to use a variety of shapes,” says Case. “Big shapes and little shapes. Whether it’s water pouring onto something or water on the surface, you want to find ways of organizing small and large forms to make things look more organic.” Avoid uninterrupted lines. Straight lines are products of architecture and engineering, but natural shapes tend to bend, develop, and branch into other things. Wavy lines are more the norm, and if a single line continues unimpeded, add in something to interrupt it and make it more organic.
While you avoid straight lines and defined forms, remember the general shape and flow of your drawing. “All of these forms as they interact with each other are going to flow into one another,” says Case. “But the smaller ones are going to be superseded fairly quickly by the larger ripples.”
Water and color.
Water is not simply blue. It is clear, sea-green, dark, or even white. What’s more, when coloring water, you’re not going to use just one blue hue, but a whole variety of them to show motion, flow, and atmospheric distortion. Water will also contain some of the palette around it. A river that snakes through the Amazon will have trace amounts of green, and an ocean of icebergs will have frigid white within it.
If you’re starting from a graphite pencil drawing or drawing over a stock photo or other source, you can use that image to inform how you shade the water. “You can always use the marks of your underdrawing for what the color is going to do,” says Case. Knowing how to translate pen-and-ink sketches or photographs into colored-pencil drawings or watercolors is important when drawing water. Usually, this means you translate dark and light sections of the water into vivid or paler hues, respectively.