How To Paint Reflections In Watercolour Step By Step

Painting watercolour landscape scenes with reflections on water are fairly easy to do. It’s a fun subject to paint and it plays to one of watercolour’s biggest strengths. Loose, spontaneous wet into wet painting.

In this post, I’ll demonstrate step by step how to how to paint reflections in watercolour with a demonstration of a scene of trees and foliage reflected in the calm waters of a gently flowing river.

This kind of painting is a great one for beginners to have a go at. It’s possible to get a great result within a few attempts, it doesn’t require you to have superhuman drawing skills and it’s a wonderful way to explore the wet into wet technique.

Materials List

Paints

I’ve linked to where you can purchase the paints and the other art materials I used from Amazon.

Cerulean Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Ultramarine Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Raw Sienna: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Prussian Blue: Winsor & Newton |Daniel Smith
Cadmium Yellow: Winsor & Newton |Daniel Smith
Alizarin Crimson: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Dioxazine Purple: Winsor & Newton| Daniel Smith

Brushes

Winsor & Newton No.6 Round Bamboo Brush (Great for foliage) Buy from Amazon
Swordliner Brush ( For thin tree branches etc)
Buy from Amazon
1″ Flat Wash Brush Buy From Amazon

Paper

Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Cold Press, 9″ x 12″, 140 pound Buy from Amazon

Misc

Easy release painters masking tape Buy from Amazon
Pebeo Painting knife Buy From Amazon
Watercolour Palette Buy from Amazon

Please click here for a complete list of my recommended art supplies.

Step 1: Background Trees & Sky

step 1 & 2 painting background trees with a bamboo brush

When painting wet into wet, it’s particularly important to angle the paper at about 30 degrees. This will ensure that the colour flows in a predictable direction, although, half the fun of this technique is that the results are never completely predictable.

I started at the top half of the paper, painting a wash of clean water with a good sized flat brush and working my way down to the line where the foliage meets the lake’s edge.

I’m going to paint a the background first. Wet into wet. i.e painting wet paint on wet paper. This means working quite quickly as the paper needs to be shiny wet not just damp. To facilitate speed, I have my initial colours already mixed and ready to go.

I’m using a bamboo brush for 90% of this painting. The loose floppy hair of a bamboo brush is perfect for painting loose irregular foliage. I could have also used a Hake. A round brush is just a bit too springy and neat, I find. You can drag a round brush sideways for a rougher brush mark but it’s still a bit of a fight to get the kind of irregularity that a bamboo brush offers.

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I want to suggest hazy autumnal trees in the background. So after taking my brush and lightly washing in a pale sky with a few strokes of Cerulean Blue I’m going to quickly clean my brush and paint in the trees using Raw Sienna for a nice golden Yellow and purple ( Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson, you could just use a premixed tube colour such as Dioxazine Violet).

Because yellow and purple are complementary colours they tend to work really well together in a painting (For more on that, please see this post).

step 3 & 4 painting foliage with a bamboo brush

Step 2: Painting The Foreground

It’s important to allow the background to dry completely before painting the foreground. Because the trees in the foreground will be painted wet on dry. Wet on dry creates hard edged strokes which will contrast nicely with the soft hazy background.

The colour green can be a bit of a problem. Mixing greens manually will generally produce a more natural looking colour than using a pre-mixed green straight from the tube. I also like to do most of the mixing on the paper rather than on my palette to create a variegated wash of green that contains a multitude of hues and tones.

The process is as follows. I place adjacent blobs of Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue and Burnt Umber on my palette and give them a good spray of clean water from a misting bottle. I simply dip my brush in the yellow and paint it on to the paper then I’ll go from one colour to another and allow them to blend and mix freely.

step 5 & 6 scraping out tree branches with a painting knife

Once the foreground trees were complete. I took my palette/painting knife and scraped in some thin branches. Timing is quite important when doing this and so is the consistency of the paint.

If the paint is too wet or too thin, the scraped out area will just fill back in and leave a dark line. In fact my paint was a little thinner and wetter than it should have been but I just about got away with it.

Watercolour painting has a lot of these seat of the pants moments, sometimes they work out in your favour, sometimes they don’t!

step 7 & 8 painting trees and wet into wet reflections

I painted in some thin tree branches with a Swordliner brush which is perfect for this. Many artists would use a Rigger instead . I prefer the Swordliner but whatever works best for you is fine.

Step 3: Painting The Reflections

This is the fun part! When everything had dried. I wet the bottom half of the paper and started painting the reflection of the foreground tree by dropping in my greens with the bamboo brush.

When the foreground reflection had been painted in but while the paper was still wet, I dropped in some purple and Raw Sienna and allowed that to spread out.

step 9 & 10 paining the background tree reflections

step 11 & 12 painting the finishing touches and lifting out with the flat brush

I took my sword liner once more and dragged in a suggestion of a reflection of tree branches.

The final touch was to take a flat brush and dip it in clean water. Dry it on a clean cloth so that it’s still damp but no longer dripping wet. Drag the flat edge of the brush across the paper and lift out a few streaks of colour. This gives the impression of a slight disturbance on the surface of the water.

I hope you found this tutorial useful. Give it a try!

Watch The YouTube Video

wet into wet watercolour painting technique for painting reflections of trees in water

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