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How to Paint a Water Drop

I am often asked how I draw water drops. Although my medium of choice is colored pencils, I do work with watercolor, and watercolor pencils. But the technique remains similar in all three of these media.

I generally start with wax or masking fluid as demonstrated below, then work with pencil or colored pencil in and around the borders. This is especially important in photorealism works.

Another great medium is tempera, or egg tempera, made famous by Leonardo Da Vinci's water droplet technique. But watercolors bring a dimension of blending that is bright and easy to render once practiced.

Below are the general steps utilized when we render these into our artwork. A well known American artist, Birgit O’Connor, known for her great watercolors, demonstrates below, how you can also draw or paint with this technique.

This is the first in many visual art rendering techniques we will make available in The Searchlight Messenger. Of course most people know that I work from photographs and very patient models who sit for hours.

To practice, find a good close-up photograph of water droplets to draw from, then have fun trying this technique. I think you will be very pleased with the art you produce.

O’Connor has been featured in Watercolor Artist and The Artist’s Magazine, and continues to be a great resource for those learning how to master the medium. Scroll down for one of her quick tips on watercolor painting for beginners.

“Watercolor has always been perceived as a very unforgiving medium that offers very little control,” says O’Connor. “This can cause a lot of frustration. But the effects and luminous washes possible with watercolor are unrivaled. In order to take advantage of the way watercolor works, there are some basic things you need to know.”

Find the Proper Materials

Using brushes that are too small or a poor grade of paper are paths to frustration.

Think Backward

Instead of beginning with the darks and then adding the lighter colors, begin with the lighter areas and then move toward the darker colors.


As a self-taught artist with years of experience, I have found that it is most important to simplify. I have tried to convey this through my articles, books and DVDs.

Use Enough Water

Once you have an understanding of how to really use water and color to your advantage, the rest is up to you. The world is wide open. 

There is a very simple painting technique you can use to add water drops to a painting. A realistic water drop creates a three-dimensional illusion and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer.

Summer Rain by Birgit O'Connor

Get an idea of how this technique works by doing this simple painting exercise.

Materials you need

  • Masking fluid
  • 1/8 sheet Arches paper
  • Large wash brush
  • No. 8 and No.14 synthetic brushes
  • Incredible nib or bamboo drawing pen
  • Color: permanent alizarin crimson, indigo

Draw the drop:
Draw an oblong circle approximately 1 inch long, and then place a small dot of masking in the upper left hand corner.

Crimson Wash:
After the masking fluid has completely dried, apply a wash of permanent alizarin crimson over the entire area extending past the drop approximately 4 inches (MM) on either side, leave enough room on the outside edges so the effect is not hindered and the drop can stand out.

Water application:
Once the wash has completely dried, reapply water only to the inside of the drop, allow the pigment to soften then lift out the color from in the inside using a No. 14 synthetic brush, you can vary the size and type brush (acrylic brushes, q-tips and paper towels work), anything to lift color out.

Add shadow:
Before adding the shadow allow the drop to completely dry again or the color can bleed back in. You want a nice crisp line. Using a No. 8 synthetic with a mixture of permanent alizarin crimson and a small amount of indigo, then add the shadow just below the drop, tapering up the side to define the edge.

Add color to shadow:
Now remove the masking from the drop and lift some color out of the shadow. This helps to show light refracting through the drop.

Birgit O'Connor

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