Drawing Reflections in Water With Colored Pencils - Learn How Your Viewpoint Matters

When it comes to drawing reflections in water, many artists struggle to capture the subtleties that make a reflection look realistic.

One common mistake is assuming that a reflection is an exact replica of the original object. However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

The Importance of Angle and Perspective

The object's position and angle can greatly affect its reflection.

For instance, if the object is leaning slightly, its reflection will be distorted. This is because the angle of the object changes the way it interacts with the water's surface, resulting in a subtle yet noticeable difference.

Understanding this concept helps you accurately capture the reflection's nuances.

Overcoming Distortion

Your view from above the water's surface can also distort your perception.

To overcome this, try observing the reflection from different angles or use reference photos to ensure accuracy. This will help you create a more realistic representation of the reflection.

Let's explore some photos of water reflections

How do we make sense of it all? Let's simplify the principles by looking at some photos.

Let's transport ourselves to the serene Loire Region of France.

  • Take a moment to study the reflections. The right-hand building is partially concealed by the tree, its left side visible in the water.
  • The low mill shed appears to stand further back from the road bridge, with only a hint of its rooftop visible in the reflection.
  • Notice how the trees in the distance are absent from the water's reflection.
  • Meanwhile, the mill cottage reveals only its top floor, with the front door remaining out of sight.

Look at another photo, this time showing the harbour at Honfleur.

  • When gazing into the water, notice how the waterfront buildings appear to shrink in size, set back from the harbour wall.
  • The distant hill behind the harbour seems to vanish, as if it never existed.
  • The masts of the boats, too, appear at an angle, bent by the reflection.

The Limitations of Reflections

Reflections never quite capture the essence of the original, and the loss of definition and overall darkness is evident.

Recognizing this limitation allows you to focus on capturing the subtle nuances and differences between the original object and its reflection, resulting in a more realistic and engaging representation.

Color and Reflections

Do you see in the photo above how, despite the sunlight illuminating every plank, the reflection appears darker?

When it comes to color, lighter objects appear darker, and darker objects appear lighter. To achieve a more realistic representation, try using a color wheel to identify the correct shades. For example, if the original object is a light blue, its reflection might appear as a darker, more muted blue.

The Deception of Perception

Did you notice that the reflection in the photo we looked at above shows the boat's exterior from an underwater perspective, while the direct view shows its interior?

The way we perceive things can be deceiving.

Our brains can trick us into seeing what we expect rather than what's actually there, which can lead to inaccurate representations. Staying aware of this bias helps you create more accurate and realistic reflections.

Observation is Key

When painting reflections in water, depict what you see, not what you assume.

To do this, focus on observing the reflection carefully, taking note of its shape, size, and colour. Try to set aside your preconceived notions and instead, let the reflection guide your drawing.

Study the photo below, before reading on.

Did you notice the sunlight bouncing off the water casting a golden glow on the bird's underside? 

It's amazing how a simple reflection can provide an unexpected view.

Take a moment to examine this photograph of the old port at Pont Aven in Southern Brittany. Notice the boats and their reflections, nothing out of the ordinary.

Observe the second picture, where the image is upside down.

This changes our perception, encouraging us to see things from a different angle. The scene appears to ripple and waver, like the view from beneath the surface of a still lake. The vessels on the water seem to hover above you, suspended in mid-air.

This effect doesn't come from an optical illusion, but from the fact that what you see reflected is different from what you see directly.

Understanding the distinction between the original object and its reflection is vital when drawing reflections, as it allows you to capture the unique characteristics of both. By doing so, you'll be able to create a more realistic and captivating representation of the reflection, which will engage your audience and draw them into the scene.

By incorporating these tips and insights into your drawing practice, you'll be able to create more realistic and captivating reflections that bring your artwork to life.

We'll explore the intricate interplay between a boat and its surrounding water on our dedicated page on drawing a boat

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