Water and Ice

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There were a few especially cold winters in the 16th and 17th century. Some of the evidence comes from paintings. In 1565 Pieter Bruegel painted hungry hunters returning to their frozen village. Ponds and canals were frozen.  Painting winter’s snow and ice were rare themes then. By the 19th century plein air Impressionists like Renoir and Monet enjoyed the successive color contrast effects of sunlight on snow.  Note the complementary color contrasts in Renoir’s snow-scape in example 1.

Example 1. Renoir,  Snow-scape, 1874.

Even Earlier in the 1800’s in the United States artists like Frederic Church sailed north to paint floating icebergs. The color of effects of sunlight penetrating the icebergs and reflecting in the water bedazzled a number of adventurous artists like Church.

Early in the twentieth century Ash Can artists like Robert Henri and George Bellows took a thematic interest in ice, water and snow. Bellows found the ice flows on the Hudson engaging with their varied palettes of blue, black, green and violets set off by other color and value contrasts as you see in examples 2 and 3. Like the impressionists Bellows tried to capture the blue/violet shadows on snow and ice. His extensive use of blue and green helped to add an icy chill to the works.

Example 2.  George Bellows, North River, 1908,

Example 3. George Bellows, Snow Capped River, 1911,

The translucence of Ice and its reflective properties were not fully exploited until artists like Andrew Wyeth in the mid 20th century.  In both watercolor and egg tempera Wyeth gave us a feeling of icy reflections and ice layered thinly over water. Example 4 demonstrates the role of ice as a reflective surface.

Example 4. Andrew Wyeth, a watercolor from 1969.

In my own examples I use a reflective, iridescent surface of brushed silver enamel over an aluminum composite, frequently referred to as Dibond. With translucent glazes I tint this surface and sustain the sensation of bright reflections. Next, I overlay parts of the image with semi-opaque glazes of a complementary color.  For example I lay blue tints over amber and, pink tints over dark blue-green.

Example 5 is a small demonstration piece using the colors I discussed. This was painted all at once (alla prima) and quickly.

Example 6. Here is step one of “Leaves on Ice”, oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum, 24×24.

Example 7. Here is step two of “Leaves of Ice”,

Example 8. Step three is a further refinement of “Leaves on Ice”. I blended more edges to let the ice appear to be melting and blending with the clear water.

Examples 9, 10 and 11 present a painting still in its early development. More is to come but, I thought you might want to see an alternate beginning with an ultramarine blue and yellow/orange  contrast. This painting is 36×36.

Example 9. Step one, Blocking the colors and shapes in, oil on white Dibond, 36×36,

Example 10. Step two,  finding secondary shapes before step three’s  blending and submerging forms,

Example 11. Step three, the painting in its present state but with a long way yet to go.

I invite you to join me for 3 day intensive workshop at the Silvermine School of Art in April.  Registration is open beginning 9 am February first. Call the school at 203 966 6668 ext 2.

I also invite you to my workshop “Explore Spectacular Flowers and Nature” with David Dunlop on Saturday and Sunday , March 23 and 24th at Artsplace in Cheshire, Ct. at www.artsplacecheshirect.org or call Joan or Karen at 203 272 2787.

You may also wish to join me at The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for my workshop “Natural Wonders” May 17, 18, and 19. Demonstrations in watercolor oil, acrylic and mixed media. This is a studio workshop.  Call Sara Bass at 904 280 0614 ext 204 or register at www.ccpvb.org/programs/adult/adult-workshops

For a presentation of “How the Mind’s Eye Works” Join me at the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Ct. on Sunday, February 24th at 3 PM.  Pictures not words came first.  Learn how our greatest innovations derive from visualizing. Learn how you too can use forms of visualization to expand your understanding of complex problems and solve them. Register on line at the Mark Twain Redding Library or, call 203 938 2545




  1. Jennifer Richard-Morrow

    Those Bellows paintings of the river and the Palisades are great. Thanks for pointing them out, David!

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