Painting reflections and shadows with watercolor

Some of my beginner watercolor painting students often get confused when painting reflections and shadows. As they follow quite different rules it is best to have each clear in your mind before you start painting.

For the purposes of this article, cast shadows, are shadows formed by objects which block light from the sun or another light source and is seen as a hard edged shape on the ground or other surface. This is different to form shadows which appear as the shaded side of an object away from the source of light. Form shadows add solidity or form to an object being painted. For this article I am referring to cast shadows unless I state otherwise.

If there are only shadows, then it seems clear enough, but once reflections are thrown in students sometimes confuse the two and often have then going in the wrong direction.

Painting Reflections

A simple rule to follow is:

  • Reflections are always towards the viewer and directly below the object they are reflecting.

Painting reflections of Clouds

Figure 1: Painting reflections of Clouds

Reflections of Buildings and Boats

Figure 2: Reflections of Buildings and Boats

Continue to: How to paint shadows with watercolor