Drawing a Colorful Water Splash with Copic Markers

Jayleen Weaver | June 26, 2017

Our trusty Copic contributor Jayleen Weaver joins us today with a detailed study on creating the effects of water during the moment of a splash! You'll be surprised to learn what actually happens in a splash and sure to learn a trick or two you'll be able to use in your coloring!

water droplet splash colored with Copic markers

I absolutely love drawing and coloring effects like fire and water. I find that more than anything else, fire and water can be the most fun to stylize and study. While in animation school I decided I wanted to be an effects animator. Sadly, at the time all effects animation was moving into computers—which is not nearly as fun. So here I am...with a tutorial on creating effects in water with Copic markers.

If you want to really explore how to draw water splashes and other special effects I highly recommend you read Elemental magic volume 1 & 2. I can't recommend these books enough! Joseph Gilland was one of the most influential instructors I had at school and these books are filled with the most inspiring drawings and experiences.

My Tools

sketching a water droplet splash

The tools I'll be using for this tutorial are: A Copic Marker Sketchbook (7x10 is my favorite size). I tear off the first page of each book to use as a scrap paper under my working page. In this case, I had a Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook with my doodles of water splashes in it; I choose the top sketch to do the tutorial. I sketched with the I.C. Comic Draft Blue pencil, erasing with a Tuff Stuff eraser stick. I also use a lot of Copic Opaque White liquid highlighting paint. Not pictured are the Sky Blue Copic Multiliner SP fine tip ink pen and the Copic Sketch markers in B000, B12 and B14.

Step 1: Drawing Your Splash Zone

sketching a water droplet splash step one
First off, block in a basic shape that your splash is going to take. The type of splash is going to vary greatly on the liquid, the object hitting the water, and the angle of the surface strike. In this case it's a simple raindrop-type splash— with a little creative license taken on the secondary splash (middle upsplash). It's shaped like a crooked crown, or a Lily.
sketching a water droplet splash step two
Build up some of the volume of water around your original shape. Be sure to avoid symmetry in order to create an interesting splash. I added the secondary splash as well. This is created when water rushes in to fill the gap left by whatever object made the initial splash. It sends a small jet of water up from the middle. The water from the initial splash is going to arc outward and back into the water, so be sure the trajectory of the rim of water is leading in the correct way.
sketching a water droplet splash step three
Build up your clean lines. I tend to draw my effects rather cartoon-like, so my water is quite viscous but you can have all sorts of style to your water. It can be jagged, bubbly, streaky, or whatever else suits your needs and your style. Notice the water is still following those arcs. In this example, notice I've added little gaps where the sheet of water is breaking up.

This is because as the force of the water moves up the sheet will break up before re-entering the water.It usually starts to happen before that secondary splash comes up. If you're going for realistic-looking water those are the types of things you should pay attention to. My example doesn't have those.
(If you want to see examples of stylized water take a look at the old Disney movies like Pocahontas, Mulan and The Little Mermaid. Each movie has a distinctive style that is echoed in every aspect of the film including the effects.)

Step 2: Transfering Your Sketch to Paper

Ordinarily I sketch my drawings out in a sketchbook, and then, using a light pad I ink directly on my new sheet of marker paper. Coloring is my last step. For organic subjects like water I like to ink last, if at all. In this case I scanned my tiny sketch from my sketchbook, blew up to the size I wanted to color it, printed it out, and used a light pad to trace it onto marker paper. I traced it very lightly with an I.C. Comic Draft blue pencil.
sketching a water droplets plash step four
Depending on your monitor you may not even be able to see the line art in this photo. I had a hard time getting it to show. It's VERY light. You can't erase once the marker goes on top. This is why it's so light, but also why its blue. If I was drawing lava I would have used yellow or orange to do my lines so that it would not be noticeable at the end.

Step 3: Coloring

sketching a water droplet splash step five

I start with B000 to color in the darkest areas. Because the line art is so light its helpful to map out some of the shapes before you go into dark colors. This way you can still see the lines and can put down a good color foundation before you add in all your contrast and depth. I've added some color inside the crown shape, and the outside of the crown shape as well. The light is vaguely coming from above so I've made sure to leave white on the top edges of the crown, drops, and secondary splash. This step can be as loosely rendered as you're comfortable with.

Water is highly reflective, and clear. We represent it as blue because it's actually reflecting the sky or surrounding colors. Cartoons have made water universally recognize water as being blue, too. So it's a safe color to go for. If it's an algae-infested pond you might want to go for greens or blue greens here. If you're going for a cloudy day you could do a base of a Cool grey.

sketching a water droplet splash step six

Next, I'm turning that vague wisps of color into solid shapes of color with B12. I free-handed all this based on my instinct but you could map them out with the B000 if you wanted. I was making the blobs of color follow the arch of the water and mirror the blobby shapes I drew for the water. I'm also breaking up some of the base shapes with some smaller shapes. I'm making sure that the steepest curve of the crown of water gets the most white (light) and then I'm essentially just shading the other areas. As a midtone for the whole piece so it can be a little forgiving.

sketching a water droplet splash step sevenHere's the entire layer of B12. Notice that I've defined it in a way that it's no longer dependent on the line art to have its shape. That's good! Now you can really go to town by pushing the contrast on the water.

sketching a water droplet splash step eightI've gone in with B14 to create the contrast. Contrast is created where a dark color meets a light color (arrows). This will make these areas stand out and create the 3D effect you're probably going for. It's still a little chunky here.

sketching a water droplet splash step nineBack in with B000 I'm adding some light shading and dimension to the big stark white areas and blending some of the B12 and B14 together. Creating some areas of soft blends and some areas with hard color edges also creates areas of interest. Variety is the spice of life.

sketching a water droplet splash step ten

Here's a close-p:

  1. Top highlight area which remains white.
  2. B14 part is the darkest part, touching the white making the contrast.
  3. Blended B000 that goes to the bottom.
  4. Where the reflected light coming up from below creates a soft highlight that will be enhanced with white paint later.

sketching a water droplet splash step eleven

Now that the splash itself has been completed, I want to give my splash a place to live. I colored the background (puddle) with B000 in a layer as even as I could—but it doesn't have to be perfect.

sketching a water droplet splash step twelve

I'm adding some swirls and surface texture into the water with B12. I'm taking advantage of that lovely brush tip on the sketch markers and using the organic shapes created with my strokes to dictate the shapes that are coming out. I'm leaving gaps of the base color between my darker color to create the highlights. experiment. It's fun.

sketching a water droplet splash step eleven 

I wanted to fade off the top of the water without having too much of a sudden stop in the image so I used B000 in a couple layers around the top area of the water where its fading into the distance. You can build up layers into a remarkable number of tones in one marker. I also blended a little but of the B12 at the bottom parts to soften some edges. I think this effectively portrayed the depth I was going for.

Step 4: Inking

sketching a water droplet splash step thirteen

I inked the water with my Sky Blue Copic Multiliner SP. I went right over the almost invisible pencil lines that were there.

sketching a water droplet splash step fourteen

Here the inking finished. I went over a few times in areas where the contrast was important, or the lines needed some thickness like the front of the crown.That's the point nearest the viewer where the lines should be more prominent and I left the back as a single line. I touched a little into the water surface too so that the splash wouldn't be the only thing with line defining its form in the image which can look a little odd. Looks done? Nope! One more thing to do!

Step 5: White Paint

sketching a water droplet splash step fifteen

It's a rare image of mine that doesn't have a bit of Copic Opaque White built into it. I thought some of the little waves in the water needed to have a sheen on them. I've used the Opaque White with the wee brush it comes with to add a stroke of white to the crest of the wee waves (1.) and then using a soft synthetic watercolor brush with water (2.) I've blended the line down a little to soften the edge. The brush merely needs to be damp, not sopping wet!

Too much water will be a bad wet mess. Less is more when blending. Protip: the Copic Opaque white is actually water soluble. Once its dry it's not stone. I put all my little brush strokes of white down first, then I want back with my water color brush to blend down after most of the white had dried. If you haven't caked the white on, it's very easy to reactivate with a touch of water.







While I had my Opaque White handy, I also tapped some little dots of white around the little drops of water. This adds little bit of water spray and creates more movement and variety in the water.

sketching a water droplet splash step seventeen

My last step is to go through with the Opaque White with brush and add all the highlights and reflected light back into the image. Arrows show where the white was placed. You can use a gel pen, but I've found the white created with the Opaque White has a greater longevity and brighter white color. The tapered brush allows you to make dynamic strokes from thick to thin, and the water soluble nature lets you experiment with a little more mixed media. If you're nervous about trying...don't be. Art is experimentation. Mistakes are what we learn from, so go ahead make some mistakes :)











Speaking of mistakes here's an example of one I made! I got a little carried away with my brush and accidentally got a little streak of white on my page. I just cleaned my brush off in water, dried the bristles and wiped up the extra white paint. All the better!

sketching a water droplet splash step eighteen

Here's the final image of the splash, scanned and adjusted to be as close to the original as possible.

water droplet splash colored with Copic markers

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial! Let me know if you have questions and comments below!


Topics: Illustration, Copic

Jayleen Weaver
Jayleen Weaver on June 26, 2017

Comics creator Jayleen Weaver (Marker Guru) runs Gurukitty Studios with her sister. They’re self-described as the craziest little comics and animation studio to ever try to hash out a living.