'Water is such a popular subject for artists in all mediums,' says Diana Boanas. 'Landscape and marine artists usually paint water from above in waterfalls, lakes, rivers and coastal scenes or wave studies. Rainy traffic or city scenes are a joy for artists with the reflected lights on wet roads from car headlamps or shop lighting.

'Watercolour is the perfect medium for painting water! Its properties allow the artist to use beautiful watery washes, blend colours and soften lines with speed. Painting water successfully combines lovely soft blends with hard lines, both of which are easily achievable in watercolour.'

'Recently, I visited the subject of rain on the outside of glass. Sometimes the focus was on the actual rain drops and rivulets, with their crisp lines and highlights, while others were of scenes  distorted by the blurry and fast moving water on glass during a torrential downpour. Many of these scenes were from behind my car windscreen as I sat in numerous car parks waiting for an opportunity to make a dash to the shops.

'Painting rain and rainy scenes is extremely rewarding, whether the subject is the rain itself or the glorious atmosphere and reflected colours in puddles and dramatic lighting that often accompanies it.

'Here I will illustrate the techniques used across a series of paintings of the subject. The first have the rain as the main focus followed by others looking at the distortion of images as seen through wet glass.'


Raindrops and rivulets on glass

'One of my first watercolor paintings (see image below) was a small study of some runs of rain on transparent glass.

'It was a significant piece of work, being my first prize-winning painting in a competition run by PaintersOnline in conjunction with the very talented watercolor artist Jean Haines.

'In this painting I am focusing on hard lines created from the shadows and highlights within the rain drops. The combination of water and glass absorbs the surrounding colours which are reflected within.'

Illustration one, the prize-winning example of raindrops and runs, watercolour on paper, (”6x4’’)

Illustration two, another example of rain on glass, (“17x15’’)


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Highlights and shadows

'Observing the position of highlights and shadows is the key to painting realistic water drops. The background needs to be kept simple and soft in contrast to the sharpness of the rain itself.

'The brightest highlights are usually adjacent to the strongest darks and you can see the colours from the background reflected within the water drops.

'As you can see in the example below, masking fluid is applied to the fine lines and smaller highlights where I wanted a sharp line.

'Within the drops and runs are areas of softer colour which, when co-joined with crisp, hard lines, give both translucency and form to the rain. Without these highlights the rain would appear flat.

'The following illustrations outline the steps in painting another detailed study of rain drops and runs viewed from inside glass.

'The focus is on the rain itself. Keeping the background soft but using more variety of colour and suggestions of objects outside the window.'

Stage one - Masking the rain prior to painting the soft wet in wet background

Before attempting this painting, I planned the sequences of washes, working from soft background to the detailed rain drops and runs of the foreground.

The raindrops and runs were masked to enable sweeping the initial washes over the background with a large brush and letting the colours blend at the same time, hinting at the shapes of a garden.

Stage two - Subtle strengthening of the darks, observing the highlights and softer areas completes the painting.

Stage three - Working on the rain rivulets by applying the dark shadows to complete the painting.

The finished painting, watercolour on paper “17x15” 

'As in the earlier illustrated studies, texture and form of the rain has been achieved by observing the crisp lined highlights and contrasting, adjacent shadows.

'Many of the rivulets have the background colour reflected in them and are softer in line, particularly within the broader runs.  

'Notice that some of the rivulets were painted on later without having been masked. These runs had no sharp edges and were made up of background colour with subtle shadows creating the form.'


The wonder of distortion

Above and below: Distortion of familiar objects as seen through a wet car windscreen, “17x15’’ watercolour on paper

In the two examples above, the main interest is split between the rain shapes on the glass and the objects being viewed through it.

'Dramatic lighting and colour adds atmosphere, creating a story rather than a still life study.

'Again, I masked the sharpest and smallest highlights. You can see suggestion of rain in the upper sky areas which were lifted or painted around.

'Brilliant white highlights will be strengthened by painting very strong darks alongside. I mixed my darks from combinations of burnt sienna or burnt umber and French ultramarine and/or indigo adding touches of colour from the background palette. 

'The following painting demonstrations are of three more scenes observed from behind my car window during torrential showers.

'I have spent a fair bit of time in car parks fascinated by the rain and the wonderful, distorted images it creates!'


Demonstration one

'Using a similar technique to the examples above, I began by masking out the highlighted rain lines, which in this case were being blown across the glass at an angle, rather than running vertically down, creating a generalized softer series of shapes, unlike the previous rivulets.

'A loose interpretation and swirling lines capture distorted, yet recognizable objects seen through the wet car windscreen.'

1. Laying the first loose wash over masked highlights.


2. The buildings in the background are then suggested with blocks of colour.


The completed Painting

”17x15” Watercolour on paper


Demonstration two

'Combining hard and soft lines on a diagonal on this piece creates the feeling of heavy rain.

'Observing the bold, abstract shapes was rather like painting a jigsaw of colour, allowing some colours to blend and retaining the sharp lines of others.

1. Masking fluid was applied to a small section within the dark background to highlight small strips.


2. The illusion of running water has been achieved with repetition of wavy lines throughout the painting.


The completed painting

“17x15”, watercolour on paper


'This painting, created using the same technique of diagonal line and distorted shapes, has beautifully, soft and watery washes describing the strength of a heavy shower.

'The bright highlights of shop lighting add drama and the abstract lines leaving the paper on the right of the painting read as buildings.'


My top tips for painting rain in watercolour

  1. Use softer, watery washes to give the illusion of movement.
  2. Observe the contrasts between hard and soft areas.
  3. Don’t be afraid of using strong colour for the darks.
  4. The whitest whites are achieved by retaining the white of the paper.
  5. Use masking fluid on shapes with hard edges.
  6. Gentle lifting of paint using a soft chisel brush will give you a softer lined highlight.
  7. Look at the distortion of images and the abstract shapes create.
  8. Most importantly, enjoy exploring the subject and properties of the medium!

Diana Boanas is a virtually self taught artist.

She enjoys working in any medium but has a passion for watercolour. You can see more of her work in the PaintersOnline gallery.

Since taking her first steps in watercolour painting eight years ago, Diana has won many awards and exhibited with The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, The Royal Society of Marine Artists, The Society of Women artists and The Sunday Times Watercolour competition at The Mall Galleries in London.

She has been selected to exhibit in our TALP Open Exhibition at Patchings on several occasions, winning awards in both the Leisure Painter and The Artist sections.


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