Painting an Object that Appears Half Underwater

When painting a figure or object partially submerged in water, it is key to think about how to delineate this effect with pencils and paints. This difference between a subject above water and anything below the service is key to creating an underwater painting.

underwater frog

Start with a sketch

It is important to start formulating this effect in the sketch stage of your artwork. This will be when you can decide just how much of the immersed portion you want visible and also exactly how you want the shape the waterline where the figures submersion begins.

There are variables as per your vision for the water clarity or how much of the submerged portion you wish to be visible, and the calmness or roughness of the water. This is your beginning point for your thinking process to the desired end effect.

For my piece, I am going to have a fish half submerged in water with the view as if I were looking at it at the waterline myself.

Step 1:

The figure of the fish to be submerged in my composition is drawn in his pose, in full. It is important that no matter how much of the immersed portion will be visible, even if just a a hint of the shape and hazy at that, it is important that you have the correct shape or anatomy to make it believable where visible. This is essential to the desired end effect.

fish reading a book underwater

Step 2:

Now that I am satisfied with my sketch and how the defining waterline falls around my character’s shape, I am going to gently erase just a little bit of the pencil lines of my fish’s submerged parts, the part of the book that is underwater as well.

fish obscured by waterStep 3:

This is the next step in differentiating above and below the water.

The watercolors are painted right over the the figure’s submerged portion. This shades the fish’s lower half with the same hue of the water, defining that it is under the water.

Tip: When you paint water background colors, it is good to make it a little uneven in density, since water is a little shadowy.

The components of the above water portion of the my composition, sky, book and fish are each going to be painted separately.

painted sketchStep 4:

I gave the whole fish, above water and below, a light wash of  brown umber. When that dried, I added another more saturated layer of color only to the above water portion of the fish.

There will only be a little shadowing added to the lower immersed half of the fish now,  to make it look a little more obscure and remote as it should seem when under the water.

detail in painted sketchNow the painting is finished, but I also added more detailing for effect:

  • Some shading where the wave comes up to exposed part of the book.
  • Some shading where the water come up to the exposed part of the fish.
  • Using gouache, I will add a little bit of white wash where the water hits the figures to create some gentle splashing, foaming.
detail painted on book

There are  many variables to creating a semi-submerged effect. Try these ideas and tell us how your painting turned out!

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