View Full Version : OIL PASTEL CLASSROOM December 2004- Painting water

11-30-2004, 11:44 PM
Oil Pastel Classroom December 2004
Painting water

Water is one of the few things that I don’t fret over with oil pastels and one of the quickest areas to work on for me. As a realist I agonise over most strokes and there’s just something about water that frees me from that, unless it’s an extreme closeup with lots of subtle color changes.

There are several things to keep in mind with water.

- It’s never one color

Water is a reflective surface. It shows colors from above and below. On cloudy days it tends to turn leaden and any color in the sky will completely sit on top…any grayish color such as violet, pink and blue grays will work wonderfully.

- It never sits still

Water is fluid…all movement affects it. Tides, wind, objects bobbing in the water, very rarely do we get water that is perfectly still. To get this effect you must use broken color. That means you lay many strokes of different colors next to each other. You can blend some of those colors but you want to break it up with other colors. It the lighthouse reflection above, you can see the ripple effect…no picky little straight lines to worry about! Just as in anything else, use white sparingly for sparkle or the frothiest part of a wave, it will have more effect overall that way.

Even though the lake below was very still you can see subtle color changes. It looks darker in the distance, in this quick study it was due to the mountain reflection which at a distance did not pick up the pinkish mountain color. This lake is known for it’s unusual turquoise color and so it did not pick up the true color of the sky since the minerals in it put out a strong color of its own.

- Water has a level horizon line
It may have a tiny waver from waves or shoreline, but the overall effect is a straight line…it’s why at one time everyone thought the world was flat and we’d fall off the edge if we went too far! Waterlines that tilt look like they will run off the edge of the page.

- The deeper the water, the darker it will appear

In this photo below,the water is extremely dark, and gives the feeling of being out in deep water ocean. The choppy water looked very complicated but it was a very easy effect to create just using two colors and allowing some of the white of the paper to show through.

- Waves dip and roll and are not solid straight lines

This is one of the most effortless water paintings I ever did. It’s a river gorge and quite choppy. I allowed the red of the paper to show through, used a dark and light cobalt and a little white for accent. This really shows how well broken color works…deeper areas are the darker blue, lighter the higher swells. Most of these were for WDE’s…so 2 hours were all I had. I spent most of that time on the main subjects and then raced to get the water in…so a good hint is…don’t muss with it…just ‘BE the water’. I find swooshing noises as I stroke help a lot!!!

- Fast moving water shimmers and gets brighter and stronger as it moves towards you

I loved doing the water in this little downhill stream. Colors bounced around and it was almost like creating music when I painted it. This is a really good example of broken color. I used a lot less pure white than it appears..only where the water hit some rocks in their way or splashed up on shore. I used cool and warm colors to show where the light and shadows were and I softened the distant water to accent the action of the nearer water. Having broken dark edges also grounds the water and the shore.

In conclusion a couple things to remember. Try to get the overall feel of the water. Each detail does not matter, as in real life the water is generally going to change as you watch it. Don’t make it static. Vary the colors, using the side of the pastel works well and helps to keep angles straight when needed. Think about how the light is hitting the surface. Use a LOT of artistic license and make it come alive!

Your assignment this month is to choose a water reference that excites you. Here’s a link to water references in the WC reference library, or you may use your own.


and if you can do some water plein aire, all the better!

Study the reference well before you start. Choose your basic colors ahead of time. Squint your eyes when you look at the ref photo while painting…it will allow you to pick up tonal changes without getting fussy. Remember that photos make dark areas solid so don’t copy that effect! If it will help, try to do it in a shorter time frame, it really does help you to loosen up. You are welcome to show all the stages or just post your final and remember to share what you learned or certain techniques you used so we can all learn a little more.

Remember…this is a study. It does not need to be perfect, it’s purpose is to help you learn to do water, so no masterpieces are expected! Have fun and BE the water!!! :p

Pat Isaac
12-01-2004, 09:03 AM
Great lesson, Sue. You explain things so well. Looking forward to this one. :D

12-01-2004, 09:15 AM
Wow, Sue. This is a very interesting class, clear explanation and tempting. I wish I could find time to paint some. But this month is the most busy month of the year because of many things, Christmas card, presents, visitations. In addition to that, there are so many public holidays so my boy's nursery school will be closed and mom has to be a full-time nanny then.

12-01-2004, 09:52 AM
Ead, I understand :) I hope you have a great holiday and enjoy the extra time with your son.
Thanks, Pat! I seem to remember that you have a handle on water already :D

12-01-2004, 03:06 PM
Sue - great job on this!
I'd really like to have a go, but with cleaning and packing and the milk can still to do, I can't promise anything. :(


12-01-2004, 03:56 PM
Thanks Sue for this classroom. Now that I'm done with Hubby's golfcourse,(at least I THINK Im done with it...I'll post the final later) I need to work on a landscape that my dad asked me to do years ago. His Masonic Lodge wants a picture of a waterfall, near a tree with a wheat sheath hanging in it. (it all has some symbolic significance). It's taken me this long to find a 2D medium that I like enough to do the picture in!

Your lesson will help me with the water feature!

12-01-2004, 06:37 PM
I understand, CJ. :( :p
ooh, a waterfall!!! Remember...white just for accents! There'll be lots of mist ...will be fun to watch you work on it!

Hey...who asked about texture for a class??? Doing that next month...but do we mean actual oil pastel texture marks or getting certain textures...like bark, cloth, etc????

Pat Isaac
12-01-2004, 06:46 PM
Yeah, Sue, I have done a bit of water and I could post one of those, but I am going to try and do a new one. It's always good to keep at it... :wink2:

I just noticed that I am now a veteran member...Wow...


12-01-2004, 06:56 PM
Congratulations....a Veteran Member!!! :clap: And I'm so glad you'll be doing a new one...I just love how you participate in the classes :D

12-01-2004, 07:59 PM
Good tut Sue, I'm rather surprised in that I've only three paintings of water in OP's to show here. Hope they will be of benefit to others though.

The first doesn't really show much water, as it's all about the swan shooing away the ducks, LOL, it's flat lake water, but still you can see disturbances there, where the ducks have just left the water.


This one is just a puddle of water, showing the reflections, and where the rain has disturbed the surface of the water.


The last one speaks for itself I think, a stormy sky and the sea with some white horses.


These three paintings show how water can be so different, depending on what you are painting, but you can also see how water as Sue says, reflects and picks up colour


12-01-2004, 08:07 PM
Hey, thanks Mo!!! I had forgotten that wonderful puddle!!! I remember the ducks, but never saw the last one before...when did you do that one??? Love the almost oil sheen in the center of the last one...great reflection examples! :clap: :clap: :clap:

12-02-2004, 07:23 PM
Your are too kind Sue, that last one I'm not particularly fond of, it's one I did for a project a while back "painting water" remember that one?

It's funny you know, because I love water, the sea, rivers, lakes, I mean I live by the sea, and yet I don't use it as a subject for painting that often.


12-02-2004, 10:01 PM
Thanks for the great tutorial Sue.

- Fast moving water shimmers and gets brighter and stronger as it moves towards you

I loved doing the water in this little downhill stream. Colors bounced around and it was almost like creating music when I painted it. This is a really good example of broken color. I used a lot less pure white than it appears..only where the water hit some rocks in their way or splashed up on shore. I used cool and warm colors to show where the light and shadows were and I softened the distant water to accent the action of the nearer water. Having broken dark edges also grounds the water and the shore.

Could you show a close-up of this stream and shore?

12-02-2004, 10:59 PM
Here you go, Ann...I didn't think of adding a closeup!

Pat Isaac
12-03-2004, 08:22 AM
That's my favorite too, Sue. Love the colors.
Mo, I think your duckies are great! So would my husband as he collects ducks. Not real ones,of course, though we did have a pair of mallards come to our feeder in the spring. They stayed for about 4 weeks. There is a pond behind our house that is full of waterfowl. We named the ducks Harry and Madeline. Here they are.

12-03-2004, 10:04 AM
I used to stay at a campground that had a pair of ducks...when mom had her 9 babies she would take them on rounds for bread crumbs. My neighbor put up a kiddie pool for them too. :)

Pat Isaac
12-03-2004, 02:44 PM
lol..That reminded me that every morning after Harry and Madeline had their breakfast they would take a swim in our neighbor's pool. He didn't seem to mind as nobody was swimming in it yet.

I thought I would post a water scene with boats that I did last year. It shows reflections in almost still water. I still hope to do a new one.


12-03-2004, 03:59 PM
This is my first real attempt at oil pastels, so will try the water painting assignment. It is on a gessoed hardboard panel, about 9" X 10" in size, with an acrylic undercoating. I only have student grade oil pastels at the moment, which accounts for the poor colors. I took the photo from the reference photos section.

Pat Isaac
12-03-2004, 04:21 PM
Great job on your first OP. I do think the white in the middle of the water is too white and should maybe reflect a subtler tone of the sky. How did you like working with the OPs? I know more professional ones make a tone of difference. Keep at it... :)

12-03-2004, 05:22 PM
Thanks, Pat...that's a great example! Nice composition, excellent reflection of the boats :D

Hey...I get all goosebumpy at first oil pastels lol! First, it's a very nice scene. I'm thinking you have a touch more color in the white area of the water in real life, yes? I actually like it that bright but think it would work better if there were a little more variation in the dark water behind it to show the light reflections better. You should be pleased with this as a first attempt! The professional are so much nicer to work with though, so I hope you liked it well enough to consider moving up to them.

12-04-2004, 01:07 AM
Pat - I really liked your boat painting, wonderful colors. How did you get such sharp, straight lines on the boats?

Sue - The white color that is in the original water oil pastel painting is actually a light yellow, merging with light blue. I ordered a Sennelier 50 count oil pastel set today. I understand that the Sennelier oil pastels are a little softer then other oil pastels, so do most oil pastelists use a harder oil pastel underneath, with the Sennelier on top of the painting?

Thank you for the comments about my painting and thank you, Sue, for the chance to practice and learn more about these wonderful oil pastels!


Pat Isaac
12-04-2004, 08:19 AM
Thanks, Stan and Sue.
The sharp lines are acheived by using the edges of the pastels. This painting is rather large so thin lines were not that great a problem. My preference for OPs is Sennelier and Holbein. Both are soft, but Holbein is just a little harder. i like them because they remind me of oil paint. Show us your painting with the new OPs.


12-04-2004, 09:59 AM
I prefer the Holbeins, but you don't have to have a different OP underneath the Senneliers (but you can if you wish). There are also other classroom articles in the Pastel library Oil Pastel index that might be helpful, Stan. I hope we'll see lots more of you around here and can't wait to see what you do with your new toys. :)

12-09-2004, 02:39 AM
Wow, Sue...
Oil Pastels are becoming interesting to me now..
I have worked in oil paints and started soft pastels now, figure forum.
I suppose the oil pastel could be considered a happy medium?
Is there a link you could recommend for a looky lou? I'm interested in trying them, and I have a feeling some of my painting supplies can be used...turps...knife...etc.
I doubt the paper I use for soft pastel would be a choice, maybe a canvas however? Maybe just any old board that's been gessoed over?
Thanks for the lesson thread. I like your waters, especially the one with the windsurfer.
...ooh...and the one under the goose, and the boat one... :clap:

12-09-2004, 03:19 AM
Hi Mo
Enjoyed your piccys, especially the last one with the lighthouse, reminded me of the Flat Holm in the BC.

12-09-2004, 09:50 AM
Hi Les, long time no see! :wave:

Cochisa...welcome to the forum! Dakota art pastel sells a sampler set for $25. that has 3 sticks of each of the professional brands. You can buy student grade, but they really are inferior. You can use pastel paper..some work much better than others, though. Art Spectrum and Wallis work great, no gesso needed unless you use an untreated board or piece of canvas. Take a look in the Pastel library...there's an Oil Pastel index...there's quite a few other Classrooms and WIPs there. If you're used to working wet on wet with oils, then you'll find the OPs similar. But they never completely dry, so you can't wait for a layer to completely dry and then go over it. It's best to lay down your light areas first and then you can keep them clean, or scrape back to them.

12-12-2004, 03:44 PM
Sue - thanks so much for doing these classrooms - just think of all the great paintings you've created trying to help us out!

Mo - great paintings, I really like the puddle - I'm saving the waves for reference - I'm supposed to paint my auntie's "backyard" - but she lives on a bay and has teensy little waves - the principles are probably the same though. I need to go visit her again, before I start it though.

Pat I - I love your painting, but where's the new one!

Stan - great OP, I'm really impressed that it's your first.

Okay here's my water painting. I've made something of a mess with my "experiment". I'd read that by using Liquin/turpentine with the OPs, you could get great transparent effects and layer them without melting the first layer into additional layers. I used a 9x12 sheet of Wallis Professional and had a great time with the Liquin/turp and my LeGrand Sennelier's. From what I'd read - it was supposed to dry in an hour or so. It didn't dry in an hour, overnight or one week later! :mad: I don't really know what I did wrong, unless it's the combination of materials. I was able to do a little more on it, but my poor Sennelier's are getting sucked into the muck. I have a few Holbeins's and they are happier in the muck, but I'm not sure it will ever dry enough to completely finish it - it's really wet!!!

C&C most welcome and I promise to try any suggestions, once it's more workable!!!


By the way, this a very pretty little park near Wimberley and Austin TX. We took 35mm pictures, when we visited there a number of years ago with our daughter and one of our foreign exchange students.

12-12-2004, 04:10 PM
Soooo, I was reading this at home (teehee, like I left there to come here...snork!) and thought oh boy, THAT sounds bad...came expecting to see a soup of watery mud lol..but I say great soup! The water really looks like it's running off the cliffs and it really is great water, nice dark areas to contrast the light areas. You get an A+ for your soup recipe..er, um, water!!! :p
I like that area of Texas, I never saw this park, but did see some pretty country around Austin. I'm sure this will dry eventually...I have no experience with that stuff!

Pat Isaac
12-13-2004, 07:14 AM
I agree with Sue,. Nice soup. Colors and all are working well. I used just Liquin once as I was told it would work well for glazing techniques. I didn't have the problem that you had, but I just didn't like the effect. It was too shiney for me.

The new painting??? Oh, that one. It is still in my head...lol Probably come out in a few weeks.


12-17-2004, 07:48 AM
Hi. :wave: I've just found this classroom ... WC is sooo big! This is a great lesson, thankyou! Everyone can paint such lively, convincing water!

I must admit to being completely hopeless (and i have tried and tried) at painting water in a convincing way. It just never looks wet enough - always more like damp concrete! :( I suppose I could turn all my rivers into motorways? Thin streams are ok, I just focus on bits of sparkly light ...

You guys have inspired me to have another go. Perhaps I will go for a lively surface and give still lakes a miss for now. Concrete doesn't have breakers! :cat:

12-17-2004, 09:36 AM
teehee...we all have our nemisis! Mine is just landscapes in general. :D I hope you'll join in and share your results!

12-17-2004, 12:38 PM
:) yes I certainly will ... after christmas, doubt I'll get chance to put pastel to paper next week! :rolleyes: Consolation is a brand new tin of 72 Caran D'Ache OPs melting under the tree lights as we speak. :eek:

Pat Isaac
12-17-2004, 04:49 PM
ooooh.....Did you peak???? :evil:


12-17-2004, 05:05 PM
Well, :o actually ... my very nice husband aked me what I would like ... still, it could be a big box of chocolates ... or biscuits ... or maybe I will peep!!! :evil: No. I'll be good :angel:

12-17-2004, 06:24 PM
lol! A couple knuckle raps should let you know if it's tin! :evil: :p The neopastels don't melt as easily as the Senneliers and Holbeins :D

12-19-2004, 12:13 PM
Hi Sue! Thanks for putting this together! The water is one of my favourite subjects! Also this looks like a guide to your WDE pictures LOL! I say it because I remember most of these and I even did the same reference of a clover creek. It's funny I glanced throught my scanned WDE works and 8 of them include water (to say nothing of two TOPPs)! It says something about me and the water :D I think oil pastels are the perfect medium for portraying water!

Mo, your paintings are amazing, thanks for sharing them! I remember the lighthouse, but WOW that puddle is magical!

Hey Pat, love those ducks :D The boats are painted with great precision and the water is so reflective!

Stan, I like your painting! Very nice quiet atmosphere is there. I agree that reflections of the sky can't be brighter than the sky itself. Also forgive me wondering why all that yellow part isn't reflected in the water it seems. Although I realize it's hard when you're short on available colours. Way good, especially considering the circumsances!

Becky, lovely colours, very lusciuos! :clap: Please post it finished too!

Theresa, you should teach us how to paint that damp concrete :D Seriously, I'm little jealous of those who can do it. It looks especially easy in watercolours but still I didn't get it.

12-19-2004, 02:40 PM
Alex, why don't you post your OP water scenes from the WDE? Explain how you got the effects..it will help others who see them!

12-19-2004, 05:42 PM
Sue, I beg to differ! Most of them are so bad that I doubt posting them will do any good lol!

Well, I chose something to post here for what it is. All of those are from WDEs and all were done with Faber Castel oil pastels.

Here you can see how the paper help with variations of colours. When water is relatively still I try to use as much blending as I can. The contrast of textures helps to distinguish the water from the other objects. I Sue said, the water darkens as it gets deeper.
7.5 x 10 inches, green Fabriano Tiziano paper
a close-up to illustrate the blending

I believe painting still water is about colours and reflections. When low waves are present, careful observation is needed to catch the pattern. For the values, the darkest point is at the base of the wave usually because that is the least reflective point.
A4 size w/c paper with pigments underpainting

This is a wintry beach scene, you're supposed to get shivers :D Again, I made it darker on the right farther into the sea. I tried to use texture of the paper to the max for the rolling waves. Someone suggested me to use more variations in the water but I'm poor at following advices :evil:
8x11" white w/c paper
a close-up to show the texture

12-19-2004, 05:58 PM
Alex...it all helps someone just starting out. I remember the last two, but don't think I saw the first...you did a fabulous job on the submerged rocks! All this brings to mind the old adage....'still water runs deep'...it's true! Thanks for sharing :clap:

Pat Isaac
12-20-2004, 08:11 AM
Thanks, Alex. I love those submerged rocks. :D


12-20-2004, 08:27 AM
Thanks for this ... :) it's really interesting to see how you've created the illusion of different depths of water - I like the white lines drawn on the surface to indicate movement too. It works very well.