In this blog tutorial I’m going to show you how easy it is to create a water droplet or, if you prefer, a rain drop. Water droplets can add a lot of visual interest to your artwork and don’t take a lot of time to create. My mother-in-law, who was a phenomenal oil painter, showed me how to create water droplets and I was amazed at how easy they were. My goal is to pass this knowledge on to you; hopefully as well as I was taught, so that it is easy to learn. Let’s get to work.
Reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog.
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Graphite Pencil
- White charcoal pencil
- Piece of scrap wood
I forgot to stop and take pictures between each step when I created the first water droplet. This oops is going to allow me to try something a little new with this tutorial. Each step I will show what I’m doing, but the photo will also have the completed first droplet above the one I’m demonstrating. Let me know what you think of it.
STEP 1 – Draw a Water Droplet
Using a graphite pencil lightly draw in a water droplet or two onto the piece of wood. The water droplet does not need to be perfectly round.
Draw a roundish shape on the board.
If you look at the feature photo at the top of this blog you will see that I have many different shaped water droplets, and I doubt there is one that is even close to being perfectly round.
STEP 2 – Mark the Highlight
Use a WHITE charcoal pencil to draw a little dot where the sun is angled. This represents the point of light entry into the water droplet. In my example, the sun is above and to the left of the water droplet, so my mark is on the upper left side of the drop.
Is this step absolutely necessary? No, but I find it helps make sure I leave the entry point un-burned by providing two things: 1) a visual marker, 2) heat resistance. Charcoal resists heat and that helps prevent the wood from browning up if you should accidentally burn over the spot.
STEP 3 – Burn the Outline
Using the writing tip, burn the water droplet outline you drew in pencil. I burned my line a medium-light tan color.
If you like, you can also burn a line around the charcoal highlight. This helps emphasize the light spot and provides a little buffer around the spot.
STEP 4 – Burn the Shadow
Using the shading tip burn a dark shadow along the outside of the bottom of the water droplet. Again, since the sun is located above and to the left of the water droplet in my example, this means the shadow is below the droplet. Also this means that the thickest part of the shadow is to right.
OPTIMAL PEN TIP POSITION
Note the pen tip position in the picture. The end of the shading pen tip is on the outside edge of the water droplet. Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am only burning in the shadow area and not inside the water droplet. I call this the optimal pen tip position.
Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean. The illusion of water droplets is very dependent on sharp crisp borders.
Turning the wood, when needed, is also important to ensure optimal pen tip placement. You can angle your hand in weird positions to accomplish this, but if you’re burning for any duration of time it’s much easier to just turn the wood.
STEP 5 – Burn the Top of the droplet
Again, using the shading tip, go along the upper inside edge of the droplet and burn it medium dark. Bring the color down into the droplet, avoiding the highlight, and fade out the color before you get to the bottom of the droplet.
This makes it look like the light entered the droplet and then hit the back of the droplet and illuminated it.
STEP 6 – Erase the Charcoal
Go over the droplet with a pencil eraser to remove any graphite and the charcoal highlight. I don’t have a photo for this step, but I’m sure you can easily figure out what needs to be done.
That’s it. Yes, really, that’s it. I told you it was really easy. Start to finish it takes me less than a minute to create a water droplet.
If the water droplet is really small, switch to a writing tip to create it. I had to use the writing tip for many of the water drops on the board I created for this blog.
Creating water droplets on a dark background
Now that we have covered how to create a water droplet, let’s talk about some common questions and scenarios that come up. Like what to do if the background is darker than the pale one I just demoed or if there is a seam or some sort of line that is in the background.
First, let’s cover what if you have a darker background. This one is super easy as you do the exact same thing to create a droplet as you do for a light background. Let’s take a look.
In this example I have dark background, but I left an un-burned spot where the droplet would go.
I followed the steps listed above and created the droplet. And, as you can see from the first photo, I’ve already drawn the white charcoal dot.
Then, just like before, I burn a dark shadow and after that I shade the top of the droplet.
Top of droplet shaded and charcoal dot erased.
As you can see, creating a droplet on a dark background is exactly the same process used in the first example. Emphasis on dark background vs a black background. A black background gets handled a little differently, but we’ll discuss that a little later on.
Creating a water droplet on an area already burned in
What if the entire area has been burned in, so there isn’t an unburned spot for the droplet? No problem. Make one by erasing a small area with a sanding pen or X-acto knife.
Sanding pens are erasers made out of fiber optic cables and they are commonly used to remove rust from automobiles. I purchased mine on ebay for around $10, but make sure you get one for cars not watches. The type used for watches or clocks is too soft, so it has no effect on wood. You can scrub for hours and it’s doubtful it would remove much color.
Using light pressure slowly remove color from a general roundish drop shape. As you can see from the photo, I only erased a small area since there is only a small area that needs to be white (or natural wood colored).
Burn the droplet outline. I felt comfortable using the writing tip for this step, but you might prefer using a pencil and then burning over the pencil marks.
Notice how I make sure that the lightest area I erased is located at the bottom of my droplet.
I did this on purpose!
The bottom is the area that remains un-burned in the droplet, so it doesn’t matter if the top of the droplet isn’t pale.
After burning in the outline, I did draw in the white charcoal dot. Yes, the dot is located in the area that wasn’t erased very well, but don’t worry about that.
Do the normal steps –
Create the shadow under the droplet
Shade the top of the droplet
Erase the charcoal and/or graphite.
Define the highlight dot by using an X-acto knife to gently scrape away the color. Take your time with this as you don’t want to gouge the wood.
Lastly, using the writing tip, draw a line around the dot to create sharp lines that define the highlight.
Here’s the final product. As you can see they both look similar, so you can create droplets after you’ve burned in the background. It really depends on which method you prefer.
Creating droplets on black backgrounds
Black backgrounds require two slight modifications; since you can’t have a shadow on a black background. 1) Light transference instead of a shadow and 2) lighter overall shading.
1) Instead of a shadow scrape in a couple spots/thin lines to indicate light transference through the water droplet onto the black background to make the droplet stand out more.
2) Burn/shade the top of the droplet, but leave the edge light so it’s easy to see the outline of the droplet.
Handling Background seams or lines
Lastly, what to do if there is a line or seam (think a leaf vein) in the background? First burn the droplet just like normal. No changes. After the droplet is burned, draw the line/seam on the droplet, but offset the line.
Example: There is a background seam that runs through the middle of the droplet. When you draw the line on the droplet, offset or shift the line above the background seam. This will make it appear that the thickness of the droplet has distorted the line. Remember that light passing through water bends. Google it if you don’t believe me!
You can offset the line below the background seam. It really doesn’t matter, but if there is more than one droplet just make sure to offset them all the same way. It would look very odd to have one droplet with the offset line above the background seam and others have the offset line below the background line.
Below are a couple of progress photos of the entire work being done
We’re done. Hopefully I was able to explain things well enough so you could follow along. Better yet, I hope I took some of the mystique out of creating a water droplet.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. For the large example (feature photo) I used a piece of birch plywood that measure 4 x 8 inches. I do not know how long it took me as I didn’t keep track, but would estimate around 2 hours.
Lastly, this tutorial is dedicated to my mother-in-law, Margaret Wilkie 1935-2015, who taught me how to create water droplets. Rest in peace, mom, I miss you.
July 17, 2016
Brenda Fox did this lovely rendition of the water droplets and I think it’s wonderful. As if her artwork wasn’t great to begin with, you’ll be even more impressed to know that she did this using a writer pen tip! Wow. Great job, Brenda.
Trish submitted this wonderful droplet burning. The droplets look very realistic and the texture around the drops is great. Thanks for sharing Trish!