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Painting Still Water: Representing Reflections

Painting Still Water: Representing Reflections

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Painting Still Water: Representing Reflections

260 pages
1 hour
Jul 31, 2013


An inspiring ebook based on instructional painting ideas and techniques for artists. Utilize the concept of painting less to say more when focusing on still water. Still water is a reflective surface offering the artist many possibilities for evocative and mood filled imagery. Explore the issues related to creating depth across a flat horizontal surface; edge control; tonal gradation and color. All are important aspects discussed at length in this volume. This ebook is relevant to all artists but includes specific watercolor techniques, like glazing and subtle color mixing. Develop an understanding of specific paper surfaces to use for granulation effects.
Jul 31, 2013

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Painting Still Water - Ev Hales


1. Introduction

Still waters run deep while on the surface an image they keep

Who can fail to be enchanted by transient evening light using the landscape as its own canvas? Double that impact by placing such a sky over a vast stretch of still water and the result can leave you speechless.

Oceans cover much of our globe in a moving mass held by gravity and controlled by the pull of the moon. Moisture in the air is condensed and falls to the earth as rain. Any water unable to be absorbed into the earth runs or falls off the hills and travels into valleys spreading across the land seeking the lowest point, which is often the ocean. Rivers travel to the sea — eventually. A horizontal mass of liquid spreads across around 70% of the earth’s surface covering all as it seeks to find equilibrium — or at least this is how it looks. Of course the earth is round and the water is held to the earth by gravity. I am not going to deal with all the issues of science, rather with the visual aspects you encounter as you view the world. For many centuries the earth was perceived as flat, because that is how it looks. When you look at the ocean it appears to be a flat, horizontal surface.

When the water reaches the lowest point it levels out and stops moving — stillness is achieved. This is only for a short time because the slightest disturbance in the air or under the water will disturb the surface with some kind of movement.

Still water is usually associated with calmness, tranquility, rest, motionless quiet and a thousand other similar adjectives that take the drama and tension from the world and replace it with a sense of peace. If you relish drama and tension then this is not the subject for you, unless you are viewing a violent storm over water.

Still water, whether it is a large lake surface or a small puddle, is quite mesmeric. It changes from a moving mass into a reflective surface as soon as movement has ceased. Like any reflective surface there is a contradiction in the simplicity of ‘just a sheet of water.’ The still, horizontal plane of the water is more than a flat surface — it is a mirror to everything around and above it, a window to what is beneath it, as well as a surface for objects to sit upon. It communicates evidence of happenings unrelated to it, like the wind in the air around it and fish / boats, anything moving through the water and under the water.

It seems to work like a meditation zone. Because the level of still water is always horizontal this equates to perfect rest. Water is nature’s spirit level. If you are familiar with the builder’s spirit level you will know the glass that contains the bubble of air in the water is used to indicate when a perfect horizontal or vertical axis is achieved. Any landscape that includes a body of water has a horizontal element in the composition — this equates to a sense of calm and peace. There is no tension while the water is still and this subconsciously calms the spirit.

Everyone seems to have an affinity to water. This is not unexpected when you consider human bodies are made up of mostly water wrapped in skin. Water is essential to all forms of life. It is difficult to contain when in the fluid state, it always tries to escape. The only time you can easily hold it is when it is frozen or surrounded by an impervious container

While enjoying the static moment there is a sense of anticipation. What will be the first thing to disturb this calm? Perhaps tranquil anticipation or motion suspended, sums up the feeling I have to still water. The question, for an artist, is How do you create this feeling in a painting? Over the next few chapters I will explore how the artist can use this subject and the huge potential it offers.

As well as opportunities for an artist, painting still water also creates specific challenges. For example how do you create a sense of distance across a surface that doesn’t have hills, valleys and overlapping trees or structures? It is essential to approach this challenge a little differently to the spatial issues found in other landscapes.

In this book I explore how to say more with less and how the medium you select can be an active player when you create a sense of mood on paper or canvas. Working in watercolor means that you can use a variety of paper types, each providing a different surface to work on. The varied papers can further enhance the affects you are after. This aspect is discussed in detail in Chapter 3 where the surface texture and color pigment characteristics are explored using different combinations to enhance the final product.

Color glazing techniques, explored in watercolor, (although relevant to any medium) facilitate the creation of complex intriguing color combinations.

As a subject it is very simple — a flat horizontal surface. There can be very few distractions in terms of object and therefore composition can be crucial. The water itself can be the main part of the composition, or it can be a small element in the whole scene. The reflective surface of still water can be used to bring unexpected features into a setting, or it can create a tranquil mood. Reflections from huge skies in the still water down to small features as seen in a puddle on a path — all are inspiration for the artist to explore.

If you are intrigued, read on and the following chapters will arm you with some powerful tools to help create magic when painting still water. The medium thoroughly explored is watercolor. Specific solutions for watercolor can stimulate you to change how you approach this subject in other media. The subject itself is perfect for a variety of media and by understanding the subject fully you will be able to fully explore your chosen medium.

Are you ready for a journey through a tranquil world?

2. Surface of the Water

A horizontal canvas

The surface of something is described in the dictionary as a skin. This is exactly what a smooth body of water is like, a tightly stretched skin. The qualities of water itself are completely different to the qualities of the surface of water. Talking about still water is usually referring to the surface — things reflected on it, things floating on it and what we can see through it. If you look at those words — reflected on, floated on and see through — all these phrases imply a tangible surface area. I know however that the surface is easily penetrated or changed. I can push something into the water, breaking easily through the surface. When the object is removed the water’s surface will smooth over as if nothing has happened. The slightest movement distorts anything reflected on it and anything that is suspended in the water, like dust particles will discolor it and mask the transparency of it.

With all of these intangible aspects how on earth do I go about painting the water’s surface? Start by forgetting the water and look carefully at what happens around it. Let yourself soak up the images you see when confronting still water and turn your brain OFF for a while. Register what you are seeing and do not try to analyze too much. Just look. Whatever you see is what you paint, no matter how irrational you think it is. When you have finished, put the painting up and have a look at what you have done.

Figure 4 Retrieving the Pots reveals the water of the ocean mass at the top with some movement that is a contrast to the water left by the tide on the rock surface. This water is absolutely still and reflects the sky.

How do I know this?

There is no confusion for the viewer as to which water is moving and which is still. One water surface has been worked into while the paint is still damp. A drier brush, making a series of rhythmic horizontal marks in purple grey indicates movement. This makes the moving ocean water at the top. Hold your arm up and mimic the movement that you see on the surface. Repeat that motion when you paint it. Once you can feel the movement in your arm then the brush can mimic the movement on the paper.

The still section of water has been created by floating color on wet in wet. There is little fiddling in this surface because I want the impression of a continuous plane. To do this successfully you need to let the water play a part and float the pigment in the fluid to find its own resting place. Notice how the blue is granulating in this area.

The rock structure creates an illusion of the rock face partially hidden by the water. A crisp edge against the water is enough information for the viewer to do the rest. Adding a couple of figures gives a scale to this rock platform. The figures introduce a narrative element as well as a focal point.

Qualities of water

How do you paint something that is almost invisible? How do you paint something with no color of its own, no boundaries that you can measure? For this kind of problem you need understand the water and then look beyond the water to other issues.

Facts about water

- It always seeks the lowest point and rests on a horizontal axis.

- It can be silky soft or hard as a rock.

- It can be suspended in the air, diffusing all form through a misty haze.

- It can be a mirrored surface when still.

- It can be transparent, allowing the viewer to look through to what is underneath.

- It can distort objects when they are submerged in it.

- The land contains water when it is liquid. Despite its apparent softness in this state the water inexorably shapes the earth as it moves.

Surface of the water

The horizontal surface of the water is where the magic begins for an artist. This area holds the key to a whole range of possibilities and is the place where a myriad of things are

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