Watercolor Water 4 ways - A Beginner's Guide to Painting Seascapes | Vanessa Lesniak | Skillshare

Watercolor Water 4 ways - A Beginner's Guide to Painting Seascapes

Vanessa Lesniak, Social Working Artist

Watercolor Water 4 ways - A Beginner's Guide to Painting Seascapes

Vanessa Lesniak, Social Working Artist

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7 Lessons (45m)
    • 1. Welcome

    • 2. Supplies

    • 3. Water with Soft Waves

    • 4. Water with Light and Shadow

    • 5. Still Water

    • 6. Sparkling Water

    • 7. Final Project

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About This Class

This class will teach you the simplest, least complex  ways to effectively paint water.  I will take you step by through 4 different techniques that you can use and build upon for your own creations.  

You can also find me on Instagram @Vanessa_paints_ and @TheSproutCreative


Turquoise Green - Sennelier

Peacock Blue - Mijello Mission Gold

Phthalo Turquoise - Daniel Smith

Anthraquinone Blue - M. Graham

Payne's Grey - M. Graham

Bright lear Violet - Mijello Mission Gold 

Meet Your Teacher

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Vanessa Lesniak

Social Working Artist


Hello friends,

My name is Vanessa, i am full time Social Worker, mom, wife, watercolor paintmaker and artist.  I am weirdly obsessed with all things watercolor and have wrangled my family into my passion.  I have a small business - The Sprout Creative where I sell my artisanal handmade paints.  

Our little business is named after our 2 year old daughter, who we nicknamed Sprout (she thinks that's actually her name, shhhh.. don't tell her!).  She watercolors all of the thank you cards that go out with every order.  She loves seeing her work on Instagram!


My favorite things to paint are galaxies and landscapes

Speaking of, you can follow me on Instagram by clicking here.  I offer tutorials, speedpaints an... See full profile

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1. Welcome: Hello, my name is Vanessa Lesniak. Welcome to part two of my series, a beginner's guide to seescapes. In this class, we will focus on four ways to paint water. It will be broken down into four sections. Painting water with soft waves, water with light and shadow, still water and sparkling water. If you haven't taken Part 1, four ways to paint skies, I would highly recommend it as the final class will incorporate elements from Classes 1 and 2. So grab your brush and some paints and get ready to make some waves. 2. Supplies: To start off with these other colors that I'll be using, you can use any colors that you wish, but these are the ones that I'm using specifically in these. We have turquoise green, peacock blue, thalar turquoise, and throwing quinton blue, paynes gray and bright clear violet. Feel free to use any combination of colors that you feel work for you since we'll be working in water, I'll mostly be using blues and greens. I also have a three-quarter inch over my brush by Princeton select, a Princeton velvet touch one inch flat brush, a Princeton elite 12 round, and a craft thermo seven round brush. A uni-ball signo pen will also be used in order to put some sparkles in the water. A jar of water. Make sure that you have clean water for every example that we do. Finally, I'll be using two types of paper. The first one is legion stonehenge aqua paper and it's 100 percent cotton coldpress paper. The second one is the arches coldpress paper, which you all know by now is the one that I love the most and again, that is 100 percent cotton. 3. Water with Soft Waves: Before we begin, I'm going to split my paper in half by using a bit of washy tape. This is not a necessary step, I'm just doing this in order to maximize the paper that I use for our examples today. Your first step is going to be adding a very thin layer of water to your paper using either a flat brush or an oval wash brush. Be careful not to add any puddles to your paper. If you do, just pick up that puddle with a dry brush. You just want a nice sheen of water across your paper. We're going to be working wet on wet for the entirety of this example. So you want to have enough water that your paper remains wet throughout the process, but not too much where you get puddles of water. This is where having cotton paper comes in handy because the cotton paper stays wet longer than regular wood pulp paper. We're going to start with our lightest blue, add a nice even layer of your lightest blue color to the entire paper. You want to keep the color as even as possible across the entire paper. This is going to be the first of many layers on piece, so you want to darken them as you go. This is why you want the first layer to be as light as possible. With that same blue, we are going to go in for a second layer, adding your highest saturation to the bottom of the page. We're assuming that the bottom of the page is the water that is closest to us. It's going to be the darkest, and as we look further away, the water lightens up. So that's why as we move forward, your darkest saturation is always going to be at the bottom, no matter what technique we're using. For the next layer, I'm switching to Phthalo turquoise. Once again, adding a high concentration of this color to the bottom, keeping in mind that we are going to continue to add layers to our piece. So you don't want to make it as dark as possible, but you do want it darker than the previous layer. Pull that color all the way up. As you pull the color up with strokes across the paper, the color will begin to naturally lighten, and this is what you want. You don't want to add any color to the top of the paper. You just want to pull it up from the bottom to the top. We are going to switch from our flat brush to our round brush. In my case, it's a size 12, round. Going in once again with the Phthalo turquoise. I'm going to begin to add broad strokes of color across my paper. As a reminder, the bottom of the paper will have the highest saturation of color. As you pull that color up, it begins to lighten. But since we started with a darker saturation, then the previous layer, you will still be able to see the lightness as it goes up. If you begin to lose too much color and are unable to see any difference between the layer that you're working on now in the previous layer, instead of grabbing more pain from your palette, just wipe your brush across the bottom of the page through one of the dark layers and pull that color backup. Again, we don't want to add any new color from your pallet to the top of the page. We're going to continue in this manner, adding broad strokes of pains across your paper until you reached the desired effects. Once the color begins to reach a higher saturation point, such as in this piece, you want to begin to add a little bit of movement to your water. The movement indicates the soft waves rolling across the water. In order to achieve this, all you have to do is a gentle up and down motion as you are stroking your brush across the paper. Again, there is no need to refill your brush with any paints. If your pain begins to lose saturation, just take a little bit of paint from an area at the bottom of your paper and pull it up. Moving forward, before you place your paint brush into the paint, make sure that you tab your brush against the paper towel to get rid of any excess water on your brush. If at this point your brush is too loaded with water, the paint is going to spread out quite a bit, and when you get to this point in your painting, you don't want your paint to spread. You want to have some areas of light shining through that dark. As you are stroking your brush across the paper, make sure you leave some areas of light. Make sure that some of that light from the layers underneath are coming through. If by chance you are unable to leave some layers or your strokes are just too close together, go in with a dry brush and pull some of that paint off of the paper. Now, let's begin to add some definition to the waves. Take a look at your painting so far. Notice where you have the darkest streaks of color across the bottom of your paper. You want to enhance those streaks by using the tip of your brush to add a darker layer of color. Make sure that you are following the same line or the same curvature as is already on the paper. We're just enhancing those waves. You can do a few of these. You can do many of these. That is completely up to you. The fewer you do, the more calm the water looks. The more waves you add, the more turbulent the water looks. If you want a nice soft look to it, you can just add a few of these very dark spots. If you want more of a rolling wave, then feel free to add more. We are going to be leaving the top of the paper untouched, as the perspective that we're taking with this piece is that of being closer to the bottom edge of the paper. For this piece, I really want it to look as if it's a soft calming wave, so I'm now going to add any more enhancements to the waves by adding darker color. Stay tuned for technique number 2. 4. Water with Light and Shadow: For this technique, we are going to be looking at light and shadows cast on the water. For this example, we are going to assume that the sun is casting it's light right down the center of the page. So the broader expanse of light is going to be towards the top of the page, and the shadows are going to start coming in on the sides and against the bottom of the page. Our first step, as in the previous example, is going to be to add a light sheen of water to your paper with either a flat or an awful wash brush. Again, if any puddles appear on your paper, you will want to pick those up with a dry brush. After laying your initial sheen of water on your paper, switch to a round brush. In my case, it's size 12, round. Instead of saturating the entire paper with a light coating of paint, as we did in our previous example, we will be adding a light layer of paint to the sides of the paper. As I explained during the beginning, we are assuming that the sunlight is coming through the middle of the piece. So we want to leave as much white as possible to really initial phase, and as we're adding layers, we do not want to cover up any of the white of the page. The white is what is going to insinuate that the sun is shining through. So we are going to start adding layers of your lightest blue. Again, our highest saturation of color is going to be towards the bottom of the paper as opposed to the top. So we don't want to add any new color to the top. If your brush runs out of paint, just drag it along the bottom and pick up some of that paint from the bottom. For the next layer, we are switching from our lightest blue to our mid tone blue. You're going to lightly brush the paint over the bottom half of your paper with nice broad strokes, leaving as much light as possible as you work your way up the sides of the paper. For this piece, we're going to be using several different colors, so you don't want to add too much of one color in one area. As you can see here, I am adding a heavy concentration on the bottom and then I'm skipping large sections of the paper and working my way up with the same color while leaving room for other colors. Continue adding soft strokes of color up along the sides of the paper. Pick up more paint on your brush and continue to deepen the values of the color. Work slowly and carefully. You don't want to rush this too much because you don't want to inadvertently cover up any of the white space. As you can see, there is a wider length of white space along the top as opposed to the bottom. That is purposeful because as the sunlight reaches the bottom of the paper, the cast of light gets smaller and smaller. I am now moving on to a darker shade of blue. Here we begin to deepen the blue. Once again, you want to slowly build up the layers in this piece, and you want to leave a bit of the layer from underneath peeking through. Begin to add more color to the bottom of the page and slowly bring that color up. Again, the technique is the same as with the previous water painting. Just broad strokes across your paper. The only difference is that we are leaving the middle of the paper untouched. Now I am switching to a size 7 round brush. The reason that I want to go a little smaller is because I want more precise strokes in my piece. At this point, we are going to begin to add a lot of the shadows in the piece, and a lot of different shades of blue are going to come into play in order to give it a little bit more dimension. I picked up a little bit of the peacock blue, and I am adding very thin strokes with my brush. Continue moving upwards along your piece, and remember, if your brush runs out of paint, feel free to pick up a little from the darker areas down below. Continue adding strokes leaving some of the under layers exposed. Now it's time to soften the edges a little bit as you get closer to the light source. Thoroughly clean any color off of the brush. Place your brush at the very edge of the color, and pull away from the white areas. Make sure that you clean your brush off after every single stroke, and this will soften those edges a bit and give it more of a fuzzier, softer, more natural look. As we are slowly building the colors up, I want to get a deeper, darker blue. So in order to achieve that, I'm mixing a little bit of pale gray in with my peacock blue. Again, we are going in along the sides of the painting with a nice brush strokes. This time we're going to take the very tip of the brush and add very thin random lines along the light source. You don't want lines that go straight across. The look that you're going for here is a little bit of shadows being cast upon the light source. In order to make it look a little bit more realistic, you have to actually go into the light source. So all of that white space that you left, we're going to invade it now. Just adding a very few random squiggles here and there along that light source. You don't want them to look too uniform. You want them to look very random because nothing in nature is uniform. Just add a few squiggles here and there and continue doing this as you move up the paper. At this point instead of dragging paint from the bottom up, what I'm doing is every time I go in to grab a little bit more paint, I'm adding more water and watering down the paint. Doing this makes the paint appear lighter and doesn't give you as much saturation as with the bottom. Every time you need to go in and reload your brush as you work your way up, add more water. Continue moving up the paper adding little squiggles of paint into your light source. Though we're adding squiggles of paint into our light source, we are still keeping that light source as white as possible around the top of the paper. Be careful not to cover up too much of the whites of the paper. After you are satisfied with the number of squiggles in your light source, you want to take a look at your paper, and as we've said before, identify all of the dark areas in your paper and enhance them just a bit more by adding darker color with the very tip of your brush. If you add too much water to your brushes as I did at this point, you can scoop some of that paint out with a dry brush. Just dry your brush on a paper towel will end scoop some of that paint out. Darkening the bottom will make it appear as if it has more shadow than the top of the paper does. You can enhance your darkening the bottom by using this technique or you can leave it as is. One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are adding a light source is that the area surrounding the light source are lightest and the further away you get from it, the darker it's going to be. This is especially important if you want to emphasize that light source. In this case, what I'm doing is the very bottom of the page I'm making it a lot darker and the edges of the page are a little bit darker than the middle obviously. Use the tip of your brush to highlight any of the darker areas. Don't be afraid to go in there with a very dark color, very dark blue color. Also don't be afraid to go in there and add a lot of strokes of paint. You can keep this as loose or as defined as you wish. If you are going to continue adding darker color, darker lines, broader strokes, be mindful of the fact that you want to leave some of the under layer shining through and try not to cover up too much of the white space. That's it. You have a beautiful ocean or water scene with light cast from the sun. Thanks for joining me on our second piece. Next up, we have sparkling water. 5. Still Water: For the next two techniques that I will be showing you, I've switched my paper to Arches cold press paper and the reason for this is because I can achieve the smoothest washes with Arches paper, without having any pressure lines in it. I have split my paper once again in half with some washy tape. Again, as a reminder, you don't need to do this. You can just use one sheet of paper or cut your paper in half. With a one-inch flat brush or/and overwash brush, once again, lay a thin layer of water across your paper. Make sure that there are no puddles and if there are puddles, just dry your brush off and pick up that puddle by passing the brush over the water. You just want to achieve a nice glossy sheen of water over your paper. With your darkest color, in my case, it is the darkest blue that I will be using, I am adding a nice dark layer of this blue across the bottom of the paper. As with the other paintings that we did today, we are going to drag that paint up from the bottom to the top. This is one of the easiest techniques when you are painting water, because all it is, is a wash of color with some darker colors showing shadows. You want to achieve as even a layer of paint as you can get and you can make this as dark or as light as you'd like it. For my purposes today, I'm making it fairly dark. Keep in mind that when you are painting in water color, the paint appears darker when it's wet and dries a shader to lighter after it's dried. Keep adding layers of paint in order to achieve the value that you would like in your painting. In this case, I have added a bit more blue on top, whereas before I told you not to add any more blue. However, I want this piece a little bit darker than I've had with the other two pieces that we painted today. Looking at it, you can still see however, that it is much darker at the bottom than on top. I am now switching to my round number 12 brush. I am mixing in some Payne's gray with a blue that I was already using. This is going to be the color that we are going to add as shadows. I am adding shadows on the side of this piece, making it seem as if the water is sandwiched in between two objects. It could be sandwiched in between two mountains or a little pond surrounded by trees on the sides. That is where I'm imagining that the shadows are coming from. We continue adding this darker value wherever you want your shadows to lay. Again, if you keep it in a nice, smooth, even motion, then you will not see any brush lines. That is the look that you're going for. You're going for still water. That is it for this piece. This one was very simple and it just involved a couple of layers of paint along with darker values for shadows. I'll see you for the final example which is sparkling water. 6. Sparkling Water: Once again, I've split my paper using washi tape and I am starting with a nice wet sheen of water across my paper. For this water, I will be using purple and blue. I really loved the way sparkling water looks when the water is purple, and nice deep purple. So with this one, it really doesn't matter if you start at the bottom or the top. We're going to try to achieve the same amount of color across the entire area. We are not going to go for lighter at the dark. Because in order for us to make the sparkling water, I look a little bit more realistic and a little bit more successful. For me, I feel like the water should be a bit darker. You can try this technique on lighter water, such as a light blue or a light green. But it might not show up as vividly as if you were to do it against a darker water background. This technique incorporates a little bit of all of the techniques that we learned today, including adding many layers in order to build up your color. So that's what we're going to be doing here. We are going to continue adding layers of purple, until the right amount of depth is achieved. Just keep going a little bit darker each time. You also want to leave some areas of the previous layer showing through, in order to give it the look of water and not just a wash of paint across your paper. Random brushstrokes across your paper, lifting it up every now and then works really well with this technique. We're given the illusion of big bouncy waves. In order to deepen the value of the purple, I am going to be adding in a little bit of blue, and that will just make this purple a little bit darker and make the waves pop off the page a little bit more. You can either add some blue in order to dark in your purple, or you can just keep adding more and more purple. I switch to a smaller brush, in order to get finer strokes with my brush, and in order to get more precise color laid on the paper. Be very liberal with your brush strokes. For this one, there really isn't a method that I follow. I just go with the flow and let my hand take me where it wants to, you should do the same. The most important details that we are going to add is going to be at the end, when we add the sparkles in the shimmer across the water. So right now all you're really trying to achieve is a nice balance of the really dark, saturated colors against the lighter colors. So as we've seen this technique a couple of times before, I'm going to speed up this process. If you wanted to go ahead and take it slower, then you can do so using some of the buttons down below. Before starting the next step, make sure that your paper is fully dry. One of the easiest way to tell if your paper is dry is to touch it. If the paper is cold to the touch, then that means it's still a little wet. In order to achieve this nice broken look, you don't want complete straight lines across the wave. Since the watercolor paper is textured very lightly run the pen across the top of the paper, and doing so will allow it to skip a little on the paper, and it won't give you uniform lines across. That's the look you're going for, you want little broken dotted lines here and there, at the very top of the dark areas. So it looks like the waves are cresting. Continued to do this across all of the areas where you see the darkest paints. Those dark areas indicate waves on your paper. Now we're going to add little touches of sparkle, and this is by far the easiest. Add little tiny circles on your paper, and put a little cross in between it, and this just gives it a little touch of sparkle. You can add these sporadically across your paper, or you can concentrate them in certain areas. I like to add mine sporadically, as I've added, the white texture blind sporadically across the paper. With that, we're finished with all four water techniques and hope that you have enjoyed these small little bits of lessons, and I hope that you'll join me on my next and final class, which is beginner seascapes. In that class, we'll be putting together everything we learned in skies and water, and we will be adding some other elements, such as mountains and silhouette. Stay tuned for the next video that details the final project. 7. Final Project: For your final project, I'd love to see what you've made using the examples shown today. If you're brave enough, go ahead and incorporate the skies that you learned from Class 1. I can't wait to see everything you've all created. Thank you for joining me today.