What is it about water?

Apr 25, 2021

We need it. We use it. We play with it.

We want to live by the sea and holiday by the river. We build bridges to go over it and boats to go on it. We create dams and weirs to collect it. We need it for drinking and cooking, washing and cleaning. Architects, engineers, designers and inventors are constantly drawing pictures and devising plans for new ways to deal with and utilise this resource. Others focus on innovative ways to better ensure the sustainability of our water resource.

Water fountains and water features are common in our gardens. We create ways to incorporate the sound and look of running water into our environment and everyday lives. Kids love waterparks with slides, sprays, pools and overflowing buckets of water.

How do we feel about it?

Our connection with water is through all our senses. Looking out at the waves rolling in, washing the shore and retreating back into the ocean. Watching water cascade over boulders and fall over cliffs. Marvelling at mirror images, reflections in glassy river waters. Listening to the trickling water running down a creek, bubbling and bouncing as it meanders along. Smelling the wet, mossy rocks, or the rain on a hot road. Tasting fresh, clean rainwater. Holding our hands in hot or cold water and splashing our face. Running our fingers through the water while gliding along in a canoe. Wading in bare feet along the foreshore. Stomping in muddy puddles. Skiing, skating, swimming…

Water can make us feel good - the sights, the sounds, the taste, the smells and the feel. These sensations can calm us. Audio clips of flowing water, waves, rain are often used for meditation and mindfulness. It’s like the whoosh sound of white noise used to sooth babies.

When we're in these happy places, our creative juices are often stimulated. Painting, writing, composing… We want to capture these feelings and share them. Artworks that capture the essence of water can bring us those same feelings of pleasure.

How is water captured in art?

Artists blend shades of blue and green with highlights of white. It’s intriguing how the sea appears blue. When the white sunlight hits the water, the redder colours of the spectrum are absorbed leaving the bluer tones for us to see. Inspired by the colours of water and the reflections in it, Claude Monet created pieces such as The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, Impression: Sunrise and Water Lilies. In this YouTube collection of some of his paintings, you can see that many of them focus on water - his garden pond, lakes, the sea… Pausing the video allows you to look at techniques he has used to depict water. Vincent van Gogh also created artworks of water - Bank of the Seine, Fishing Boats on the Beach, The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-der-la-Mer. In each of these it’s interesting to see how the artist differentiated the sky from the water. Similar Impressionist artworks were produced by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, like several of The Frog Pond: La Grenouillere.

Then there are paintings of rain, wet streets, streaks and striations, droplets and ripples in puddles. A modern artist, Dusan Malobabic, living in Perth, Australia, creates amazing acrylic artworks depicting water.

In what way is water used to create artworks?

Watercolour paints are the most obvious. Special paper is required so moisture is absorbed. Artists use a wide range of techniques like wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry and then varying the amount of water to influence the results. Watercolours are particularly appropriate for creating water scenes with the colours blending and blurring. Susan Crouch, from North Carolina, is a modern day artist using this medium. Depicting water is not a focus, but her use of the watercolour medium has an appealing and positive impact.

Activities for kids

1. Using official watercolour paper, experiment with different levels of saturated patches to create a water scene. Wait for the blue areas to dry then try adding paint around this, to add to the scene, with minimal water on the brush. Compare the effects and explore variations on this approach using less and more water on the paper and the brush.

2. Onto a shallow tray of water (larger than the thick piece of art paper you’re using), drop colours of oil paint. Use a straw to blow them around the surface of the water to create patterns. Place the paper on top then carefully lift it off to see the results.

3. Create artworks that depict water: a holiday at the beach, a waterfall on a bushwalk, finding frogs in a creek, fishing from a jetty, jumping in muddy puddles. For some ideas and guidance, search Artventure for ‘water’.

Water is precious and the key reason there is life on earth. Not having enough of it for daily needs is a reality for many. In Australia, droughts are common. We learn to appreciate rain when it comes. Then we experience the other extreme - flooding - when too much water creates devastation.

But it is the happy medium, where it fills our needs and soothes our soul that I wanted to focus on. Seeing water in artworks, producing our own versions of water in art, and creating with water can help us feel good and connect with our earth.

Teacher and Artventure Blogger