Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

Illustrator and Copic fine art instructor Brandi York shares her techniques for creating realistic water with Copic markers:

One of the biggest challenges to rendering realistic water is to not think about the reflections too much.  Water is clear.  And yet not.  The majority of color we see in water is just light being reflected back, most often the sky.  I chose this picture of the ducks to help illustrate this better, as you see the reflection of the ducks as well as the sky fading from dark to light.  The trick to this is to not think about what is being reflected; rather, think about the shapes of light and dark that are being created by the water.

As always, I’m using Copic Sketchbook paper and Copic Sketch markers.

Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

After I have the ducks laid in, I start the water with B21.  Keeping it loose, I lay in the base of the top, lighter portion of the reflected sky, darkening a few spots by relayering the B21:

Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

I start adding in some B23 and B45, using the grayer of the two (B45) to help darken bits.  I’m still using B21 at this point to help soften many of the edges, leaving the reflections of the ducks blank for now.  Using the lighter color acts much like the colorless blender, without as much color loss as the blender:

Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

Again, I continue adding more darks, using more B45 and now B97.  You’ll notice the bottom portion is gradually getting darker.  Why didn’t I start dark to begin with?  Well, with the way Copics layer, the more colors you layer, the more depth the color has, and the more subtle shifts you’ll achieve.  I’m still using B21 and B23 to soften many of the edges and try to eliminate many of the strokes left behind by the brush tip of the Sketch marker:

Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

To get some of the deeper bits of water, I add in some B79, although it’s a bit more purple than I’d like.  To help correct this, I use more of the B97 over, darkening and smoothing over the B79.  Lastly comes the reflections of the ducks in the water.  Using some of the local color of each duck and Warm Grays (3, 6, and 9), I lay in the reflections, adding some B45 and B21 over to cool down the reflections so that they do indeed look like they are in the water.  I come back in with the B79 to spread it around a bit, layering a little into the darkest spots of reflection and on the ducks themselves:

Coloring Realistic Water with Copic Markers

I hope this inspires you to tread the waters of water.  You could spend hours refining and honing in the details and smoothing out the shapes to create even more depth and realism. Just remember to think of it as shapes, not as water, and it’s not nearly as scary to tackle!

See more of Brandi’s illustrations on TwitterFacebook, and Copic Color - add your own work while you’re there! 


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  • Natalie

    This is a super helpful tutorial, and the end result looks great. I’ve been wanting to illustrate water but I never know where to begin. This will help a ton, and I’ll keep in mind to think of it as shapes instead of just as water . Great tip, thanks so much! : )

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  • Karen Summey

    This is a wonderful tutorial, Brandi. You make it look so simple, but of course, I know it really isn’t! You’ve given me the desire to try though. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kona Rose

    Love love love! Thank you for all the help with water!

  • Debbie Olson

    Fabulous tutorial, Brandi!

  • LeAnne Holt

    I need some help and pointers on waves especially the white foamy part when they hit the shore -