Layering Water

This week I was almost a full-time artist. Tuesday, I attended a figure workshop in the morning and painted at the Bedford Farmers’ Market in the afternoon:

Friday I tended Gallery (Manchester Artists Association) and passed my time by painting a sunset with reflections in puddles, thinking to prepare myself for Saturday:

Saturday I attended another one of our periodic single-issue-landscape workshops with Peter Granucci; the topic of the day was handling see-through water, that is, water shallow enough to allow you to see to the bottom. More about that later.

Sunday Sharon and I met up with other NH Plein Air artists at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts. Our mission was to paint, but we also visited the art musuem on the grounds. On exhibit from their permanent collection were paintings by the Hudson River painters; on special exhibit were paintings by New England impressionists from the turn of the century. Only one name was familiar to me–Childe Hassam. My favorite of the heretofore unknown impressionists was a guy called Clifford Grear Alexander. I googled him, but other than his dates (1870-1954), no biographical information is available. Both Sharon and I were struck by the fact that many, if not most, of the paintings in these two exhibits were of New Hampshire scenes.

Farm House at the Fruitlands Museum, 11×14; when I got bored by this painting, I applied high contrast outlines to see the effect. I like it.

Meadow at the Fruitlands Museum, 11×14.

Monday, today, I put more time in on the Meadow because I had only one hour’s work into it on location. One of the docents had told me she saw a doe with two fawns at the tree line, so I added them to the scene. I wish I had a better grasp of deer anatomy, but people keep referring to our Great Dane as a deer, so I put her in the painting, hoping she passes as a deer from a distance.

The title of this blog, “Layering Water”, comes from the Saturday workshop. The point of the workshop was to learn to see all the layers created by water, and then, armed with that understanding, represent them in a painting. There is the reflection on the water, which requires that the water be relatively still. There is the surface at the bottom of the water, which requires either no reflections, or that any reflected object be in shadow–you cannot see through a reflection if the reflection is lit. If you can see the bottom rocks, mud and whatever, you need to note color changes and value changes but much more subtly than if the water was not present to obscure the view. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether you are looking at a reflection or at something that exists under the water, especially if your reference has no context. Peter started us off with photographic examples that made our heads spin. Then we worked on two assignments. Here are my results:

The assignment on the left was relatively straightforward. Below, on the left,  is a closeup of one of shadows formed by the submerged rocks.  The closeup on the right is reflected grass–note that the reflection is darker because the underside of the blade of grass is not lit by the sun.


The second photograph was hard to deciper.  We believe that the lighter shape at the top may be an overhanging rock. The middle section is supposed to represent a partially submerged rock extending toward a fully submerged ledge. Why is the water line so dark? I still don’t know what to make of the dark shape between the overhanging ledge and the submerged ledge, but in the middle of it is another rocky shape that suggests the whole dark piece is a shadow cast by — something outside our view, or the overhanging ledge? Peter wouldn’t say. He took the photo but maybe he couldn’t remember, or maybe he just enjoys torturing us.

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