My Lessons | How to Paint Water | Supplemental Videos | Student Critiques


This month’s study is of a fascinating component of the landscape: water. Water has an irresistible pull on us from lakes, streams, creeks, rivers to waterfalls! Water is deservedly a popular subject for painting. Water creates mood, perspective, and intrigue in the landscape. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar painting location, head to where there’s a body of water and you’ll undoubtedly find a worthy subject. This study will help you to develop the necessary tools and techniques to express this rewarding aspect of the landscape.

A Meandering Stream

This classic composition gives us an opportunity to explore some of the key concepts of painting the landscape including linear perspective, aerial perspective and seeing value accurately. Although the composition is relatively straightforward, there is some nuance in the color scheme. This is a wildlife preserve that offers an ever changing variety of evocative subject matter. The pink weeds appear as if by magic, contrasted by the reflection of the late summer sky.

Water in a Composition

Water and reflections can be a dramatic focal point in a painting. This lesson takes you step by step through a simple yet powerful painting where water is the “star”! Tempting as it may be to include the entire view, we will narrow in on the scene to focus on the jewel colored reflection in the stream.

Inventing Color in a Scene

There’s pleasure to be found in painting bodies of water of every kind, from lakes and rivers to coves and oceans, but the invented colors are particularly satisfying Marla shares her step-by-step tutorial of painting water, as featured on the cover of Pastel Journal.


These videos will extend your understanding of the key concepts presented this month. Spend some time with these. Some of them are YouTube videos available to the public but they fit nicely with our study, so I wanted you to be aware of them and take a look.

Seeing Value

We want to get sensitive to seeing value and being able to choose the right pastels to match what we see. In this video you’ll learn to mass similar values together for a strong design.

Optical Mixing

This is the effect when two or more colors are perceived simultaneously, and they are seen as combined and thus merged into a new color. The original colors are made invisible and a new color, the optical mixture replaces it. The impressionists never presented, let’s say, green by itself. Instead of using green paint mixed mechanically from yellow and blue, they applied yellow and blue unmixed in small dots or strokes, so that they became mixed only in our perception as an impression.

A Little Color Theory

Does color theory make your eyes cross? In this quick overview on the topic, Marla makes sense of basic color theory and explains how you can use it to add excitement to your pastel paintings. With a greater understanding of hue and intensity, value and contrast, color temperature, simultaneous contrast, and more, you'll handle color in your paintings with greater confidence and control.

Return to Oaks Bottom

This is a small version (5 x 7), of the same scene we painted in the first demonstration. It’s on Pastelmat so the marks are a bit more direct. I highly recommend doing several small versions of water scenes to learn to capture the water as simply as possible.

Napa Valley

This small study is a good example of mirroring the sky in the water. Shift the value of the water a bit to suggest it’s depth. Play with the movement of the strokes to suggest different conditions on the surface of the water. Play with it a bit.

Afternoon Light Time Lapse

This small study is a good example of creating the illusion of reflections with only a few marks. You can always add more detail but saying it simply first will strengthen your compositions.

Student Critiques