How to depict water in motion

Concept artist Peter Stapleton passes on some pro tips for when you're painting moving liquid.

Water is transparent, but will refract light passing through it, distorting and reflecting the light in weird ways. It will reflect light from every direction and focus it, causing bright specular highlights as well.

I start off with a completed background before adding water effects. I paint the main body of the thrown water using smooth curved lines of bright light, making sure to keep the background poking through in areas. I use hard-edged bushes.

How to depict water in motion

The key thing about painting water is to use the colours and values from the background as well as the light source

Around where the water ends its journey it starts to break up into smaller blobs and drops. I render this with more random strokes, resizing the brush as I go along.

How to depict water in motion

Putting the water on its own separate layer makes it easy to transform and distort

I then make a lasso selection around the water and put it on a separate layer. Now I use Liquify, Plastic Wrap and Glass filters to distort the water. It's best to play around with a combination of filters to get the right effects. I then finish up with adding white spray and droplets.

Words: Peter Stapleton

Peter Stapleton specialises in illustration and concept art. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 103.