How to

How to Draw Water in Pencil

Discover the Art of Drawing Water

Water, the most awe-inspiring element in nature, holds a sense of tranquility unlike any other. The rhythmic sound of crashing waves or the gentle rippling of a stream can soothe our souls. From oceanscapes to reflections and waterfalls, the possibilities for capturing water landscapes are endless. However, without understanding how to depict water on paper, the task may seem daunting. The intricate details of ripples, waves, and reflections can easily overwhelm us, leading us to set aside our favorite scenes for another day. Does this sound familiar?

Lesson Goal: Exploring the Art of Capturing Water

The goal of this lesson is twofold. Not only are we going to delve into the techniques of drawing water, but we are also going to review the essential tools of observation, analysis, and interpretation. These tools are the keys to successfully portraying any subject matter, no matter its complexity. Although it may seem like a tall order, we believe that we can accomplish it together.

The Power of Observing

Before I mustered the courage to pick up my pencil again in 2002, I spent a couple of years simply observing. Armed with a digital camera, I started capturing photos of everything around me. I began to truly open my eyes and take in the world. It’s astonishing what you notice when you make a conscious effort to “look.”

“The more you look, the more you see. The more you see, the more you understand.”

To truly experience a landscape, you need to observe it visually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. While not all of us have the luxury of drawing on location (plein air), we can rely on photographs. However, there are limitations to using photographs. They flatten the view to two dimensions, hiding what may be behind objects. If you didn’t take the photograph yourself, you need to take additional steps to “become connected” to the scene. Envision mentally walking through the scene, conduct research, and examine various reference photos from different angles. Immerse yourself in the textures, feel the wind on your face, or imagine the spray of water at your feet. This deep understanding of what you see is the power of observation.

Now, let’s turn our attention to our first image captured by Aleksandra Freeman, featuring a magnificent swan swimming. The swan itself seems simple to draw, but ah, the intricacies of the water and its reflections! Where do we begin?

Analyzing the Image

We already know that it’s water—fluid, transparent, and reflective. We can observe the swan swimming in the water and its reflections. All of this information comes from our initial observation. The analysis stage breaks down the image into smaller sections, allowing us to identify crucial clues that will help us recreate the unique characteristics of water.

By shifting our focus solely to the water and looking at it in an abstract format, we can truly dissect what we are “SEEING.” I have cropped the image to help us concentrate on the water reflections. Additionally, I have posterized the image, reducing the number of visible values and converting it to grayscale. This abstraction and simplification of the image make it less overwhelming. We can now study the movement of the waves, the shapes, and the values. By breaking down this complex image into simple shapes and values, we can comprehend it better.

At this point, we can create sketches to identify the most prominent waves and map out the values for our composition. This analysis stage helps us grasp the essence of what we are looking at. However, it’s crucial not to create a final drawing based solely on this stage. Otherwise, the drawing will end up looking abstract, lifeless, and flat.

how to draw water with pencil

Interpreting the Scene

This step is the most exciting one, as it’s where each artist’s interpretation comes into play. Let’s revisit the black and white image of the swan. Does it look less overwhelming now? To me, the water is nothing more than values and shapes.

However, we don’t want to merely draw “values and shapes.” We need to interpret the scene and decide which clues to include. Equally important is deciding what not to include. Consider the focal point of your drawing. Is it the swan or the reflection of the swan? We must avoid overemphasizing the reflections if our intention is to highlight the swan.

We have completed our preliminary observation and analysis of the subject matter. Now, it’s time for the artist’s creative license to shine!

Try your hand at drawing the swan and its water reflections. Study the image and identify the clues that will help viewers recognize that the swan is swimming in water. Alternatively, you can choose your own photo reference featuring reflections in the water. Boats and harbors make excellent subject matter for practice.

Don’t forget to share your results and thoughts on this process. Did it help? What clues did you discover?

how to draw water with pencil step by step

Mastering Oceans and Waves

Not all landscapes involve capturing up-close images like a swimming swan. Drawing ocean or seascape scenes requires a distinct approach to interpretation and representation.

It may sound simple, but no matter how hard I try to illustrate the art of drawing water, I find myself coming back to this approach. Do you remember your first drawing of a boat on water? Remember that one line of waves beneath the boat? Well, that’s essentially the pencil stroke I use!

Here’s an example of using horizontal strokes with overlapping, creating the rocking motion of waves. The strokes become smaller and shorter for distant waves. By focusing on the under shadows of the waves, the water seems to come to life.

how to draw realistic water with pencil

Try drawing waves using this technique. The reference photo showcases minimal wave details and only a splash against the rocks. Although the composition appears simple, looks can be deceiving!

This reference photo is courtesy of scratchboard artist Karen Hendrickson from Oregon. Since Iowa lacks oceans, Karen kindly supplies me with beautiful photos from her own “backyard.”

pencil drawing techniques
pencil drawing techniques for beginners

Here is the completed seascape.

how to draw water

About Diane Wright

After more than 20 years of focusing on family and building a career, I rediscovered my passion for art and picked up my pencil again in 2002. Despite earning a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Northern Iowa, my career path led me away from the fine arts. Currently, I work as an IT Manager at a medical auditing firm in Des Moines, IA. Now that my children are in college, it’s the perfect time for me to rekindle my artistic pursuits. I live with my wonderful husband, Les, in the charming town of Mitchellville, Iowa.

  • Diane Wright

To learn more about Diane and view her exceptional work, please visit her website:

Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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