Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Upon Reflection

I do my fair share of paintings that utilize water and reflections, and as a result I get people who confide to me that they can't paint water.  So I say to them, "I can't either-- that's why I use canvas!  Ha, Ha!"

People don't confide in me much anymore...

Currently, I'm working on a painting that has a composition that is heavy on water reflections.  I'll show it to you some day, but right now it's in the "Jesus, what the Hell is that?" stage.  But it has made me think of some principles (because we all know there are no rules in art) about painting water.

Generally speaking, water is noticed by us as either a wave or a reflection.  The choppier the wave, the less it will reflect, while a smooth body of water is like a mirror.  I'll pass on talking about waves, Stapleton Kearns did a good blog post on that one.   I'll talk about the smooth water and it's mirror-like reflection.  That's how I think of reflections in the water: mirrors reflecting mirrors, reflecting mirrors.  Sound complicated?  Well, it is.  I mean if it was easy to paint then everybody would do it.

One of the best painters of reflections in my opinion (which is how IMO looks spelled out) is Sarah Knock, a local Maine artist.  Reflections have a decidedly abstract quality about them, and Sarah gets that beautifully in her paintings.  I've picked up a lot by studying her treatment of water.  I highly recommend you check out her art.

One thing I notice when folks paint reflections is that they think it's just an upside down image of the top half of the painting.  You can do it that way, but the drawback is a very flat looking painting.  Water is a flat plane-- like a floor. As such, it's best to keep in mind it follows the same rules of perspective.  In the case of water, the object being reflected is not only spread out on the surface, but the reflection we see is from the perspective of the water, not the viewers perspective.  For example, let's say we are looking at a boat that's a little below eye level to us.  From our view we can see straight through the windows.  However, that's not what will show in the reflection, because the water is at a different angle than us.

I've asked the renowned and highly talented court room sketch artist M. Fablian to illustrate this principle:

Another thing to keep in mind is that a wave is a rounded mirror.  Thus (I love using the word "thus") it will reflect the image of whatever it's facing.

Another example of this from Mr. Fablian:

Light too will have the same effect on a rolling wave as it would a rolling field.  One side will be highlighted, the other in shadow.  By the way, since the reflected light looses some oomph as it travels from the water to our eye, it will always appear a touch darker:

Now here's were it can get crazy:  The rounded side of a wave will not only reflect the light and image it's facing, but also the reflection of the wave in front of it, which is reflecting the wave behind it.  Mirrors reflecting mirrors, reflecting mirrors...  Got it?  Here's that principle as demonstrated by Picasso:

Now let's see how some no-name hack of an Illustrator by the name of Tom Lovell pulled this off:

I'm kidding, of course!  Tom Lovell was a painting God in my honest opinion.  (IMHO for texters)  Geez, you'd think he set his easel up under-water to get this view.  All the elements I was talking about are apparent in this painting.

I tried this whole reflection thing with a couple of my paintings:

So there you have it-- a few thoughts on painting reflections in water.  To coin a phrase;

Water, water everywhere--

And all of it's tough to paint!



SamArtDog said...

It gets dark s'damn early (understatement) these days, so when It did, I sat down to read incoming posts. I started with yours; I've been sitting here ever since. I didn't get to any others, so spellbound was I by reflecting on all the reflections. To say the least, I'm in awe-shucks of your watery works. And highly-amused, as usual, by your post.

Then I took your advice and took a look at Sarah Knock's site...
Mmm mmm mmm mmm, mmm-mmm-mmm.
Aside from that, I'm speechless, except to say that I know those waters, and those are IT.

Susan Roux said...

Gees, you'd think you'd live in Maine or something... What's with all the water?

Those rolling waves is the same challenge I face with folds in fabric. They're illuminated from whatever direction they face. Welcome to my nightmare!

Kevin Mizner said...

SamArtDog, you win the prize for the nicest comment I've received on my blog. Thanks!

Kevin Mizner said...

Susan-- nightmare? Or challenge? If it was easy, then everybody would do it!

Virginia Floyd said...

This was fascinating, Kevin. I never knew all that about reflections in water. (I haven't tried that yet.) The water and reflections in your sailboat painting are awesome!