Painting realistic dew drops in watercolour – 5 different simple ways

Sometimes a little detail turns a painting from good to WOW! and adding water drops, rain drops or dew drops to your work can be just such a detail. The other thing is that they are a brilliant way of practicing tone and shadow control, which was the subject of last week’s tip. They are simple, but so effective! You can paint a realistic droplet in just a few layers.

A little addition of a rain or dew drop can help lift a simple painting
Anatomy of a dew drop

It is worth considering the anatomy of a water drop – they are lighter than their surroundings and bend the light as it passes through them. Somewhat counter intuitively, the end nearest the light source is darker than the end further away. The water drop will have bright highlights reflecting the light source and will cast a shadow. The shadow will be small if the light is overhead and longer if the light is low. If the light is low, some of the light may pass through the water drop meaning that there is a light centre to the core of the shadow. The droplet will distort the image of anything it is on top of – much light spectacle lenses can distort the face. So a dew drop on a leaf may distort the veins (see below). They will pick up and reflect colour from nearby objects.

Really look at the anatomy of a droplet
Different ways to paint dew drops

Paint a drop on white paper first. Paint around the highlights and then use a wet brush to pull the pigment out into the shape of the droplet, going from dark to light. Once dry, add the cast shadow and use a damp brush to pull out a lighter area in the middle. Allow to dry and deepen any tones as required.

There are four options for painting on a background. You can simply paint around the droplet and leave a ‘hole’, then paint as per the white paper drop. This was done in droplet 2. This is great if you know where you want the droplet to be and your hand is steady enough to leave the highlights. Alternatively you can apply masking fluid, then paint the background and once dry paint the drop. You may need to lift colour from the light end of the droplet with a damp small flat brush. See example 4 below.

You could paint the background and lift out light patches where you want the droplets to be, while the paint is wet (3) or paint the background and lift out with a damp brush once the paint is dry (5). This last method has the advantage that you don’t have to plan where the drops are going. However both of these don’t let you keep bright white highlights. You need to add in white highlights with gouache or an opaque white pen. These will give a little zing to the droplet. Of course highlights will be in different positions on the droplet, so really observe what is going on and simplify.

The final thing to do is to add in anything which might be visible through the drop or reflections of colour from nearby objects.

Use any colour to practice your drops

If you would like to see my YouTube video about painting water drops, please go to: I publish a short video each week on Sunday, covering the tips, tricks and techniques I wish I had known when I started to paint. If you subscribe and hit the notification bell, you should get told each time a new one is available.

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