When the Horizon Encircles the Sky

posted in: Blog, Classes, Composition, Painting | 3

European conventions for both subject matter and composition were well in place by the 1500’s.  How to describe and  color, fabric, stone, armor,  water, trees, were conventionally defined but, were continually refined through the sensitive observations of artists like Mantegna, and Da Vinci.   For example, water began to appear as translucent, reflective and moving not just a solid color with symbolic wave lines.

We still borrow from their compositional patterns and admire their careful observations and hyper sensitive touches of pigment. Ernst Gombrich observed that artists turn to the past to find inspiration and models for painting in the present. I have some examples to consider.  In 1533 Martin Scaffner painted table top in which he centered the sky (example1).  Scaffner knew his table top would be seen from above not across. Precedents in ceiling paintings were being established. Whether looking up into the painted ceiling or down onto the painted table top the composition was already canonized; the horizon would surround the sky.

Example 1. Martin Scaffner, 1533, “The Heavenly Universe”.

Scaffner’s table top and Correggio’s painted ceilings brought the viewer into infinite space by looking into the center of the painting.  I took special notice of this structure when painting my two examples, “Reflecting Sky II” and “Reflecting Sky III”. See examples 2 and 3

Example 2. Reflecting the Sky II, oil on brushed silver dibond, 24×24.

Example 3. Reflecting the Sky III, oil on dibond 24×24.

But the historic path to painting the sky does not just begin with 16th century ceilings and table tops. The sky can also be found in water reflections. The journey to perfecting the experience of celestial water reflections runs through Da Vinci to painters today. By the 18th century landscape painters like Thomas Gainsborough discovered that reverse glass painting can help to give an effective water reflection effect (example 4).

Example 4. Thomas Gainsborough painting on glass from 1783. Notice the reflections on the water.

Early in the 19th century John Constable became consumed with observations of the sky and water.  His “Dedham Lock” from 1820 presents the sky inverted as a reflection in the water as well as the buildings along the water’s edge.  The sky and its horizon reappear in the foreground (example 5).

Example 5. John Constable, 1820, “Dedham Lock” , not the carefully rendered reflections on the water.

On my off-trail nature walks I make more discoveries than staying to the trail. I find analogies to designs from  the canon of compositions such as Scaffner’s painted table top. Like the table top, one can look down upon a stream bed (example 6).

Example 6.  Photo of a pool in a stream bed with reflected sky colors and the earth encircling the sky.

From photos like example 6 and designs like Martin Scaffner’s I began “Reflecting Sky II’ and “Reflecting Sky III”.  I started both paintings by repurposing earlier paintings of mine. What follows is step by step sequence of each paintings development.

Example 7. Step one, an older landscape of a winter pond, oil on brushed silver Dibond. I inverted this older painting before beginning.

Example 8. Step two, of “Reflecting Sky II” the blue sky occupies the center.

Example 9. Step three, and current state of “Reflecting sky II”.

Examples 10, 11, and 12 show a sequence of steps and revisions for “Reflecting Sky III”.  In example 10 you see how I begin with an overpainting. The previous painting can still be vaguely discerned under the veil of the over-painting.  Example 11 presents a painting much further along but, I was bothered by the large thumb-like rock in the upper right. The rock’s large size prevented the painting from moving back into space. I subdivided the rock. In example 12 you see the painting as it currently exists.

Example 10. Step one of “Reflecting Sky III”, the over-painting begins.

Example 11. Step two; we see the overly large rock in the upper right as well as too many equally bright stones in the lower left. I need to subdue a couple of them.

Example 12. Step three and current state of the painting,”Reflecting Sky III.”

I hope you will be able to join me for my online classes. Register at daviddunlop.com I would enjoy working with you online.




3 Responses

  1. randy k davis

    Would you consider doing a demo for next Tuesday the 14th about the painting “enchanted forest” you put up on FB a few weeks ago? A stunning piece of work!! Thank you

    • dd_admin

      Randy, Enchanted Forest relies on atmospheric effects within a closed woodland. and Yes, my next blog post and Zoom class will address these issues. Thank you, David

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *