Painting Reflections in Watercolour




When I’m out sketching a scene, I know that the minute I add a reflection, my sketch will suddenly look “real”. Painting reflections in watercolour from a photo can be interesting and satisfying, but it’s much more exciting and dynamic to paint them from life. Your subject may be snatched from you without a moment’s warning – the sky can cloud over, it can start raining or someone might remove the nice bowl with the beautiful reflection that you’ve been happily sketching. The constant threat of change inevitably results in a drawing full of energy, but it can be very challenging.

I had drawn all my life, but it was only a few years ago that I discovered urban sketching, and I knew nothing at all about painting reflections. I did know, however, that I should use my eyes and look hard, and so my early attempts could have been a lot worse. Just a week or two into my newfound passion for urban sketching, I drew the pool of the house in Mauritius where I was living. The reflections were simply too beautiful to resist. I said to myself that all I had to do was draw exactly what I saw, and it would be okay. It was fine for a first attempt, but the biggest mistake I made was not realising how fast the sun moves, creating havoc with shadows (and their reflections) so they are all wrong in that first drawing of the pool. But I filed away what I learned that day, and the many days of sketching that followed, and between my “field” experience and my determination to look hard, I now find painting reflections in watercolour very satisfying indeed. I hope you find these tips of use when it comes to your field sketches of reflections.

Here’s the drawing of the pool that I did as a brand new urban sketcher:


Michele's Pool, watercolour by Roisin Cure
I was excited by the fact that I could do it, despite my difficulties. Other than the speedily-moving shadows, another tricky thing was inverting the image in the pool. I’m familiar with it now, but it took a bit of getting used to.


A few months later I attempted the scene again, and produced a slightly looser sketch. You can clearly see how indecisive I was in the wobbly lines of the reflected trees, but a pen line is permanent, after all…


Michele's Pool in winter, watercolour by Roisin Cure
All the techniques I’m offering here essentially boil down to “draw what you see”, but the knowledge can prime you to interpret what you see a bit more quickly, to “get your eye in” as we used to say when I studied field geology.


If you can become accomplished with painting reflections, your sketches will dance with life. Only well-done shadows (and their corresponding highlighted parts) have as instant an effect on a drawing as reflections. I hope the tips I talk about here, illustrated by my sketches (and some of the examples I’m showing here are no more than that) will help you capture a reflection in a believable way.


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