How to Draw a Body of Water

Learn how to draw bodies of water from artist Rebecca Schweiger in this Howcast drawing tutorial.


I'll talk about how to draw a body of water. You want to find, perhaps, a photograph or an image of a body of water that really inspires you. When you're drawing, you always want to find something of inspiration so that as you're expressing yourself through drawing, you feel a connection to what it is that you're drawing.

I'm going to start with color pastels on paper. These are soft chalk pastels, they come in many different colors and they come in many different brands. I'm going to basically break this drawing into 3 areas: The sand, the water, and the sky. Basically, all I've done is a rectangle of light blue, a triangle of turquoise, and a rectangle with a little angle of peach. I'm going to blend it in just with the tip of my finger, just in a back-and-forth movement.

Always starting very, very simple; you always want to start simple, you can always bring details in later. People think that drawing is incredibly complicated, but if you just focus on simplicity; simple shapes, simple lines, you will have much success.

I'm going to move into the water. I love color, so I'm not necessarily going to use most traditional colors. I can use whatever colors I prefer. There's always a horizon line, the horizon line is where the water meets the sky. It's usually a straight line, but I'm not going to just make a solid straight line, I'm going to almost connect little light dashes. I'm going to bring in just touches; I'm using black. I'm going to use touches of black just to show some movement of the waves, and again, almost like little dashes. I'm using black just to bring in those dark tones. Then there's a dark color, always, when the ocean waves are crashing on shore. Really, they're just these squiggly lines. You can practice just even drawing some squiggly lines.

I'm now going to bring in other colors into my water. Whatever color your sky is, it's going to reflect into your water. Although I put down a blue, I'm actually going to make the sky more of a hot pink. You want to use colors that you absolutely love; colors that allow you to have fun, colors that allow you to express that which you're drawing. For me, I love the water, I love the ocean, I absolutely love sunsets. When I think of a beach, I think of the beautiful pinks and oranges of the sky. I'm going to use my creativity and bring some of those colors in. I'm going to make the top of the sky a little bit darker, and I'm just going to add a touch of orange closer to that horizon line, just to show that feeling of a sunset.

As I'm adding the pastel, I'm typically not using the tip; I'm using the side of the pastel. This allows me to cover more surface area; it's also much more expressive. Then I can always shade it in. I'm going to take that same color, and now I'm going to add that same color into the ocean waves to show that sense of reflection. This time, I'm using the tip, and then sometimes using the side. It's always very, very excellent to experiment. Find your own method that works. There are no hard rules; the only rule is to do what works for you. I always say, "Keep the best, leave the rest." Keep the tools that really work for you. Then if there are tools that are just not working for you, then don't use them; it's as easy as that.

I'm coming back in with a white just to show a little more motion in the water, some highlights. Although I'm using a photograph to inspire me, I'm not necessarily copying it. If I wanted to copy it, I should just take a photograph. Drawing is the opportunity to really express yourself, to make something quite unique.

I'm now going to move into the sand. I'm really focusing on color. What types of colors are coming through the sand? Typically, sand is not just one color, there could be strips of color, there are shadows, there are lights, there are darks. I'm really allowing myself to use my imagination. Maybe one of the purples in my hand, I decide that I want to add a little purple into the sky, or maybe even a touch of purple in the water. I never really have a specific plan. My plan is just to express myself, to express and draw the essence of what I'm looking at.

I'm going to actually take that purple now and redefine the horizon line. Instead of with black, I'm going to use purple. I'm actually going to bring more purple into the ocean, just to show some of these waves crashing ashore. All of the different lines I'm drawing tend to be, for the lack of better words, little squiggles. As I move up, I'm going to make lines, just very simple lines straight across. I'm going to add a little more sand here. I'm going to combine a number of different peach tones.

There are areas where the sand may be lighter, so I'm going to bring in some white. By using the side of the pastel, just mix all of those colors together. I'm definitely having fun making a mess. I'm not judging my drawing. As I'm looking at it I'm not saying, "This isn't good. This should be better." I'm basically trusting that I'll continue working on it until I feel really good about it.

This would be my beginning stages. My next step would be to come back and really work on the water much more. We'll do that just a little bit, just so you can get the idea. Water is typically darker by the horizon line, so I'm just going to darken that up. I'm going to use a mix of a couple of colors, adding some blue, some purple, maybe I'll add a touch of black just to darken it up a bit. I'll come in and mix with my finger. A darker horizon line, or a darker area in the back, will allow the water to look like its moving back. Then right above it I'm going to lighten it, and that will really create a sense of depth.

If you want to be creative, you can use touches of different color. I could even just add touches of pink to show a sense of a sunset. There does not always have to be a reason other than the color you're using is very expressive. That's what you want to do as an artist; you have endless, endless possibilities. I'm now going to bring in some lighter tones; maybe I'll use some lighter blues.

My next step is with white pastel. I'm just going to lighten up where the water hit's the sand, just to show that the water is crashing on the sand, and that that area of the sand is just a little wet. As I'm drawing this, just even drawing this, I'm feeling relaxed. I feel like I'm on a mini vacation, just thinking about the waves hitting the sand. That's really part of what drawing is all about; it really transports you to a very peaceful, relaxed state.

Perhaps I would continue this drawing for another 20 minutes or 30 minutes. I could work on it for as long as I want or as little as I want. I would just continue adding lots of little touches until I get to the point where I really feel that the drawing is saying exactly what I want it to say. As you continue your drawing, make sure that you continue to express yourself, you continue to relax, and you continue to really enjoy your creative process.

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