How To Paint Ripples On Water

Consistent Shape And Color Contrast Is The Key

Drop a pebble in the water and watch the small ripples flow away in concentric circles. This lesson shows how to create the effect in watercolor.

This lesson shows how to paint ripples – concentric ripples that work their way out from the center of a spot where a pebble might disturb the surface of a quiet pond.

It’s easy with some attention to a couple key things : shape and color contrast.

The Shape Of Ripples

This kind of ripple is a set of concentric circles forming and moving away from a central point.  Since we rarely look directly down on anything from above, these ripples will look like ovals – ellipses – instead of circles.  It’s important to be consistient in the shape and in keeping the ovals ‘centered’ and aligned.

Linear perspective applies here, so the individual ripples will seem to be farther apart in the foreground and closer together in the background.


The other thing that will really help is contrast between the lighter overall surface of the water and the darker reflections of the landscape on the banks around the pond. Dark-Light contrasts are important to set up the visual cues viewers need to understand the effect.

Important Skill and Concept

This quick study really focuses on the concept of a single set of concentric ripples. But the idea and methods for creating these ripples apply to other types of water – especially moving water in streams, rivers and oceans.  The causes of movement in those is different, but often creates consistent rhythmic patterns similar to these basic ripples. 

What you’ll need

  • Brushes – Medium and Small Rounds
  • Colors – Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow
  • Paper – a small piece, 5″ x 7″ or so – Arches 140lb Cold Press recommended

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