We are accustomed to seeing natural light fall from above. We experience shadow as a phenomena that generally resides in areas beneath the light. This is our automatic expectation for the location of light and shadow. Often artists rely on this expectation of ours to help them build a deeper space. In this watercolor of Turner’s ( example 1) notice the blue shadowed area at the bottom of the painting and the lighter area closer to the horizon. As Turner introduces the light from above he makes it obscure the linear clarity of the Venetian horizon. In example 2, a contemporary example by Max Dunlop we see some of the same principles. The darker bottom of the picture fades away as we ascend into a pale and obscuring light as we raise our eyes to the horizon. With these examples in mind I modified the information in a shoreline photo of mine. In example 3 you see my first step. I pinned a photo next to my painting surface to show you my rearrangement. I raised the level of the grasses allowing the foreground to consume more of the picture’s surface. This moved the background further into space. I reduced the number of pools of reflected water to only one area by eliminating those in the front. I also reduced the number of water shapes breaking in from the left . I let the shallow water recede through successively thinner stages. In example 4 you see my blue indication marks for where I raised the sea grass foreground . Notice the painting migrates from darker foreground to a much lighter background. In example 5 you see the image before I introduced the complementary lighter blue color and, I have yet to completely sequence the horizontal bands of water which will melt into with the distant band of water. In example 6 , the image after the light blue complements have been introduced to water and distance.
example 1. J.M.W. Turner watercolor
example 2. Max Dunlop oil on aluminum
example 3. Step one, shoreline oil with photo
example 4. Step two, with blue diagram of changes
example 5. Step three, before blue lights and distance
example 6. Step four, after blue distance
Next I will show you more subtle effects of a barely darker foreground as gives the feeling of foreground vs. distance with a more abstract subject, water. John Singer Sargent uses a darker shadow to cross part of the foreground in example 7. The reflected water shifts to a pastel blue as it recedes in the distance . The middle ground has a greater range of color but , the greatest highlights are found in the area above the water’s surface as in the white rocks. In my final two examples 8 and 9 I delicately suggest a darker foreground color and I place more bright contrast in the middle just as Sargent did. Then, like Sargent I let the acuity of edges diminish and a pale pastel colors blue, green, and reduced yellow pervade most of the distance. In example 8 I stagger a series of progressively smaller concentric circles to also direct your attention into the distance. This is a similar solution to example #6 above except that the circles are not as flattened or attenuated as in #6. In example 9 you can find serpentine meandering reflections breaking through often in orange and red. The serpentine design form is used more covertly in #8 and #9 than in the earlier example 6.
Example 7. John Singer Sargent
I would love to see you demonstrate the water circles technique. It would be interesting to see you lay out the colors prior to making the circles. Did Sargent use a wash for the pastel blue that makes the water recede and the darker shadow in the foreground?
Great post — this really touched on a problem I wrestle with in landscape painting. Beautiful examples!
Great demo and examples. In my Tuesday w/c class we are learning and understanding shadows and reflections.
Examples: 3, 4, 5 & 6
This was very instructive to see how you used an image, modified the design to create a better overall painting.. The diagram in example 4 are very helpful in understanding the design and your thinking. Excellent!
Wonderful episode! Love the Turner, but maybe the Max Dunlop and your examples of the marsh lands even more (did I just dis Turner?) , the final of yours as expected, the best, absolutely GREAT! I could look at that forever without tiring of it! Water is so difficult but possible with your examples!