Water and Reflection

My intention before I began this painting was to focus on the water and it’s surface reflections. Included below is a gouache study and image showing my set up on location. I scouted out the location and did the gouache study the day before. Initially I was very much drawn to the lazy S shape of the tree in the middle ground. Notice how dramatic the sky is in the image of my easel set-up the following day. By the time I committed to the sky, the sky became a hazy blue. This is often the case painting out of doors. Everything is in motion.

The inspiration to predetermine my subject came from a workshop. I signed up to audit an online workshop given by Christine Lashley, who, like me is allergic to solvent and therefore works with solvent-free materials. I was looking for some suggestions about the use of the medium walnut oil, walnut based oil paint and water-soluble oils. Instead I was given a presentation on painting water and reflections and less information on materials. Lashley stresses thumbnail sketches and small watercolor or gouache studies beforehand. While I sometimes do preliminary sketches, I have resistance to taking the time for a study because I like to lay down my impression before I lose the light or cloud formation that drew me to the location in the first place. Also I felt it would spoil my initial spark of enthusiasm.

The painting above is called “ The Fish Pond” and is 12×16”. I had a beautiful day and no wind for capturing reflections in the water. The caste shadows of the 2 tallest trees at left are long. The rule here is to measure the distance from the top of the tree to the waters edge. This measurement equals the length of the shadow from the far shore to water that is closest to my feet. The sky in the reflection on the water has less detail and is darker in color than the sky above because water absorbs the light. I came back a second day around the same time to finish. Clouds were in a different pattern but it was a sunny, warm June day. And yes I did a gouache study and large thumbnail before-hand. (seen below) I am beginning to see the value of preliminary studies even if its just to narrow down the parameters of the painting.

This last painting below was a morning painting but already the wind was kicking up dust and there was farming in the distance creating a more atmospheric reading. “The Canal” 12×12 oil on panel shows a less defined reflection than the painting seen earlier of the Fish Pond because the water is in movement

I have been converted to a believer in the preliminary study. Painting plein air requires quick decisions. The value in doing prep work helps to make a commitment to the patterns of light at that moment on the landscape. These patterns are hard to invent later on. In the end the studies record information from that time, in that place, at that moment. Photos are also useful but the studies are different. This documentation is especially helpful if you want to use it as source material for a larger studio painting.