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How to paint a Rocky River Bed. Step by step lesson and so easy!

acrylic Art Blog how to paint river rocks rocks underwater

Ever wanted to paint a river scene with beautiful clear water but just don't know how to get those rocks looking like they are under the water. How to paint a rocky river bed art blog. Step by step lesson by Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Example of a rocky river bed painting.

This is the easiest way I have found and it's very effective too.

Decide on the colours your river will be, think about what colour the river bed is rather than the water on top at this stage.

The rivers here in the Hawkes Bay are shades of earthy green in the summer. so that is how I have chosen my palette for this demonstration.

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Step 1 Sponging

Sponge on your river bed colours. I have used yellow ochre, burnt umber, burnt sienna, and green. The sponge adds texture and more interest to your river bed. It will be less regular and it will help in picking out little rock shapes later on. Let dry.

Sponging on colour to make the river bed. Art Blog on how to painting rocks underwater. By Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Sponging on river bed colours

(There are two examples here.)


Step 2 River bed

Using water to thin down the paint, do a wash of mid green over the whole picture. This is now your river bed.

Glazing over the river. How to paint underwater rocks art blog by Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Glazing the river bed.

Step 3 Rocks

Now come the rocks. Just take some white paint and and make rock shapes where you want your rocks to show under the water. Keep the rocks on the flat side as the water will be distorting the shapes. Look at some pictures of rivers if you are unsure what shapes to make. We have smooth round like rocks here so I make mine Flat oval shapes. Do different sizes and try not to make a regular pattern.

Paint in the white base white fir the rocks. Art Blog how to paint a rocky river bed. By Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Putting in the white base colour for the rocks.

Step 4 Rock Colour

Now use either water or glazing medium,( I use clear painting medium) Glaze some colour on your rocks, thinking about where they will be light and dark. You will notice that I don't use a rock colour here but the different water shades. I have used Yellow Ochre, Burnt sienna, and Blue.

Putting colour on the rocks, Art Blog How to paint a rocky river bed By Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Putting light and shadow colours on rocks.

Step 5 Water colour

Now I would recommend using a glazing medium, mix up some (In my case green) water colour and glaze over the whole river covering up the rocks. Don't make your glaze to dark here, you want to still see the rocks showing through.

Glazng over rocks to make the look underwater. Art Blog How to painting a rocky river bed. By Goldstarwork, Artist Laura WilsonGlaze over the rocks with your water colour

The good news is if you do find you have made the glaze to dark and you can't see your rocks anymore you can just go back to Step 3 and start over.

Here is an example.

Rocks before glazing for river bed, Art Blog. How to paint a rocky river  by Goldstarwork, Artist Laura WilsonGlazing is to dark. Art Blog How to Paint a rocky river bed by Goldstarwork, Artist Laura WilsonStart Again, Art Blog on How to paint a rocky river bed by Goldstarwork, Artist Laura Wilson

Step 6 Shadows and details

Mix up some very dark colour but water it down so it is very runny. I have used an almost dark grey/purple. Using a liner brush outline your rock shapes and add in some random smaller rocks as well. Don't be to tidy it looks better if you use the brush very freely. 

 Step 7 Surface water

Paint in the surface water ripples. This is what will really make those rocks look under the water. The surface of the water will reflect the sky colour so choose a colour that will reflect that. I have chosen a light mix of ultramarine blue and white.

Step 8 Finial highlights 

Use a touch of white or very pale highlight colour for the finial highlights on the ripples. Only add a very small amount of highlight, in this case less is more.

Finished! Now you can go and practice and then paint those rocky river beds whenever you want. Give it a try, It's a lot easier than you may think.

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