Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


June Challenge

Still Water Reflections:

Recently our MPS Vice President, Deborah Maklowski demonstrated the properties of water and how to paint this fluid surface. The drawing challenge this month is to locate a body of water…lake, pond, river, streambed or even a puddle or two and complete a plein air study (FROM DIRECT OBSERVATION) of the reflective quality of this subject. Be clear what it is you're painting!

Is it still water?
Is it quickly moving water?
Is it a combination of both?
What things are reflecting on to the surface?

Spend a lot of time looking and thinking about it before you pick up your pencil and pastel. There is usually quite a bit going on and you'll need to squint down hard to see the shapes within the water's surface while eliminating all of the small details.

The challenge is to make the water your primary center of interest and tell the story about the surface quality of the water. Keep it simple and you'll have more success with this one. The real challenge is to see how many details can be eliminated but still accurately represent what you are seeing.

I am including Deborah's (most helpful) notes from our last General Meeting to give you some important tips and things to think about. Please read over these notes before you begin.

Deborah Maklowski, Notes on Painting Water Landscapes

• Observe! SQUINT! Sketch, study, and draw
• Look for and use recurring rhythms and patterns
• Focus on BIG shapes; ensure they're interlocked and interrelated
• Perspective: the same rules apply (intervals, edges, amount of detail)
• Values and edges are key: in turbulent water, your lightest values convey essential movement and, in contrast with the dark of open water, create your composition
• Dawson says "Study the predictable properties of water."

• Seas, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, even puddles
• Still or moving or both; eddies and changes of speed and direction will affect the surface
• Transparent or opaque in varying degrees
• Undisturbed water is a flat plane, parallel to the sky
• Water absorbs some ambient light, so it is almost always darker than the sky
• Ripples are upright planes, therefore darker
• And it is REFLECTIVE; that's how your viewer will know it's water

• Unless water is perfectly still, the surface is a broken mirror; each wave/ripple has two reflective surfaces, each reflecting something different
• Dawson's 3 zones: zone 1=both reflect the object (e.g., underside of boat); zone 2=one side boat, one side sky; zone 3=both sides sky
• Zone 3 ripples will likely reflect different parts of the sky, so look for color and value variations
• Zone 3 ripples may also be interrupted with reflections of taller objects (masts, trees)
• Reflections are duller, less detailed that objects being reflected
• In reflections, darks are lighter, lights are darker, mid-values about the same
• Even the brightest reflected light will be darker than its source
• Reflections always come towards you
• Diagonals are reversed
• Objects are reflected upside down, including the sky; so water farther away from you will be lighter, since it reflects the lighter sky near the horizon; water closer to you reflects the sky overhead and is therefore darker (ocean is the exception)
• Perspective: the closer the ripples are to you, the more detailed, the more contrast, the greater the interval between ripples
• The reflection of an object in still water will not be taller/longer than the original
• The reflection of an object in disturbed water will be longer taller/longer than the original, as the reflective surfaces of ripples closer to you continue to "look back" to reflect the object
• Two factors influence how much of any object you can see reflected: (1) Your position in relation to the water surface; and (2) the distance between the object being reflected and the water.

• A broad treatment carries far more conviction
• Start with a drawing: flat horizon for still water or define the structure through and around which moving water will flow; include directional markers, if it will help you
• Paint from the bottom up (sand, rocks, etc)
• Lay in your darks, work towards the lights
• For moving water, pastel strokes should follow the direction the water's flowing
• For still water, value, edges, and principles of perspective will make it lie flat
• Paint the object, then paint its reflection
• Use a pastel pencil, a Nu-Pastel, or charcoal to feather blend and soften, dull down the reflection; or swipe downwards very lightly with the side of a pastel
• Then blend across or add ripples across the reflection
• Turn your painting sideways to check that reflections are properly aligned with the reflected objects
• The color of the light and the sky will affect the color of the water
• If you take license with the sky color, remember to "reflect" that in your water
• The color of the water will affect the color of reflections
• The color of the bottom will affect the color of reflections in the shallows
• The color of suspended sediment will affect the color and value shift of reflections
• Darkest darks occur where water meets upright planes of land or objects (wet, shadowed)
• But tiny disturbances there create sparkles of light that help define those edges; pop them in and smudge them a bit
• Lightest lights convey movement and, in contrast with the dark of open water, create your composition and the path the viewer's eye will take
• Foam is actually millions of little bubbles, each reflecting light
• Avoid white for foam; use palest blues, greens, yellows, pinks
• Foam in shadow is darker than foam in sunlight
• Shadows on water behave like shadows on land: they fall away from the object casting them; they may allow you to see to the bottom; they will affect reflections
• If you can see the bottom on a sunny day, look for cast shadows there, too
• Wet rocks are darker and bluer than dry ones
• Watch edges where rocks meet water; avoid "cut-outs"

Doug Dawson, Capturing Light & Color with Pastel, F&W Publications, 1991
Richard McDaniel, Landscape, Watson-Guptill, 2004
Maggie Price, Painting with Pastels, F&W Publications, 2007
"How to Paint Believable Reflections with Pastels", Deborah Christensen Secor, in The Pastel Journal, Issue 26, May/June 2003
"Wade Into Water", Maureen Bloomfield, in The Pastel Journal, Issue 39, August 2005
"Upon Further Reflection," Maggie Price, in The Pastel Journal, Issue 46, October 2006

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