Friday, March 18, 2011

Rocks Under Water

Yesterday's class was intense, with not just one but really two demonstrations. First I did a couple of quick drawings in pencil to show how to sort out rock shapes, especially finding the three planes: light, medium (or half-light), and dark.

Then using a sheet of white Pastelmat paper about 9" square I did a charcoal underdrawing, changing it from a rectangular format (see photo and sketch at bottom) to a square, and painted using PanPastels. Here's the result, which is still in progress:

In order to paint rocks underwater it's necessary to consider the rocks first. I suggest drawing them well, showing the underwater rocks with their shadows, if they're visible, and then consider the water's action, reflections, and ripples.

A drawing will help you see more accurately. Do a good sketch showing the placement of the rocks, either in charcoal or pastel. It’s not necessary to draw every single stone, but locate the major players, and then loosely indicate the size and general placement of scattered stones in non-essential regions.

Ask yourself what makes the rocks look wet. In the sketch above you can see that the dry rocks are generally lighter in value, while submerged ones are slightly darker. The water line indicates the shape of the rock, as well. You can clearly see the shapes and shadows cast by those beneath the water, although the contrasts are not as dramatic.

WetCanvas RIL pic by Godzoned
Also notice  that underwater rocks take on a monotone, colored by the prevailing light and any sediments carried by the water, influenced by the local colors of the rocks themselves. Ripples cast additional lines of light that sculpt stones underwater.

Reflections, along with light and shadow, affect how you see the water and stones under the surface.

I suggest you paint from bottom to top, beginning with the river bottom, any stones seen beneath the water, then its surface and any rocks above water.

I saw some wonderful pencil drawings begun in class as my students started to sort out rocks, both wet and dry, water and its reflections, bubbles and foam, and the shoreline rocks and trees.

Keep going, gang!


  1. I love this post. Rocks under water are some of the most beautiful subjects to paint in a landscape. They're always dramatic and grabby. You made the process seem so simple and elegant!

    Love the way you paint in Pans too.

  2. Thanks, Rob. I'm enjoying the so-much-less-dusty PanPastels lately! I really enjoy the softer look, but when I need to I can spiff up an edge or add a strong light or detail with my sticks, too. And I agree, rocks and water are so alluring.