Rolling Water

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I remember a childhood family vacation which included Niagara Falls.  As I looked over the rail into the Horseshoe Canadian falls I felt an animal magnetism to enter the rush of falling water. The sensation was both awe inspiring and scary.

Since that trip I have found many artists presenting the sublimely perilous invitation of plunging water.  J.M.W. Turner was often motivated by this idea of the “sublime” in nature. In 1820 the “sublime” was described as the sensation of viewing a dangerous situation from secure position; that is, witnessing a deluge with nature’s force locked within a picture frame (example 1).

Turner’s watercolor has placed the viewer in the roiling current of the mountain’s river.

Example 1. J.M.W. Turner watercolor with graphite, pen, watercolor, and scratching out, “The Pass of St. Gotthard” 1843,

Seven years later using a more transcriptive approach in his painting, Frederic Church, like Turner, puts the viewer in a precarious position. We are embedded near the water which pulls us down into the riled waves below (example 2).

Example 2. Frederic Church, oil, “Fog off Mt Desert Island”, 1850,

In my following examples I have put you, the beholder, into the water. In example 4, “Top of the Falls” You have been invited to meld with the falling cascade as it turns over the edge into a frothy explosion. The painted vortex of energy is built from the sides.  We slide down into a bowl of exploding water. Descending linear perspective curves help draw the viewer into the falls. They eventually find tranquility in the flattening river below.

Example 3. “Top of the Falls” step one, building the design around an off-centered oculus of light,

Example 4. “Top of the Falls” present state, oil on brushed silver enameled aluminum composite, 24×24,

My final example presents more step-by-step information. Here is a horizontal descending (to the right) design with subtle shadow shapes serving as counterpoints leaning up in an opposite direction. Furthermore, the eye is given an alternative destination in the upper left as the river appears to meander back into shadows there.

The translucent effects were built with layered, thin, oil glazes brushed over silver enameled aluminum. Later glazes were more opaque and specific in their placement. This glazing process become more particularly spot-placed as the painting advances  through subsequent steps (examples 5, 6, 7, & 8).

Example 5. Step one of “Translucent Rapids”, 24×48,

Example 6. Step two of “Translucent Rapids”,

Example 7. Step three of “Translucent Rapids”,

Example 8. Step four and the present state of “Translucent Rapids”,

I invite you to join me in November at Art of the Carolinas, sponsored by Jerry’s Artarama in Raleigh, N.C. I have three one-day workshops. Friday, November 15, it’s “Spectacular Flowers” from 9 to 4, use code FR 1907 to register.  Saturday, it’s Water Scapes” from 9 to 4, use code SA1907 to register.  And, Sunday, it’s “Natural Patterns, Abstracting Nature” from 9 to 4 use code SU1907 to register. Go to to register.




2 Responses

  1. Denise Petit

    Love them! Yours, from the totally abstract #5 to the finished #8.
    That water transparency/translucency is wonderful and it’s my goal to learn how to paint it!
    Great class today, can’t wait till next one!
    Thank you!!!

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