Looking Across the River

I painted this 11” x 14”, panel painting overlooking a small section of the Beaverhead River. Painting water is a challenge. The quandary for me is when I paint outside on location, am I really painting what I see? Or am I painting what I think water should look like? Landscape artists usually talk about depicting the reflections in the water. Since water is denser than air, water generally is darker in value than the sky. Another concept is the lighter in tone of objects on the shore, the darker the reflection in the water. The opposite is true for the darker the objects on shore the lighter they appear as a reflection in the water. However I don’t always see it that way. What to do? Paint from theory or impression? Depending on how much time I have to lay down the reflections I usually opt for how I see it. It is hard to capture that moment in time quickly because the light changes so fast. If it has long passed, I revert to theory.

The Beaverhead River is part of a system of waterways that make up the headwaters of the Missouri River further north and east. The River flows northward in a meandering pattern. Sacajewea is thought to have recognized a marker of rock cliffs near where this was painted that guided her toward Shoshone summer pasture. She is to have called it the Beaver Head in August of 1805. The Blacktail Mountains rise up in the background. Not much snow in this painting for mid-January, which is concerning to a region already dry from last summer and fall.

1 Comment
  • Elyce Semenec

    February 6, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    I love this painting Nancy! It’s beautiful. Reading about your creative process contributes to my experience of the painting. And your mention of the landscape within the larger ecological climate (less snow, already dry climate from the previous summer) brings a larger scope of awareness and relevance to the water you are depicting.