Sunday, March 11, 2012

Painting Moving Water

Posted by Maggie

This is another demonstration sequence from my Saturday class sessions at New Mexico Art League.

Our subject last week was how to paint moving water. Thanks to a student who took photos as I began the painting, I have images to post. (Thanks, Lin!)

As I often do, I began the painting with an underpainting of pastel, washed with turpenoid. Working on a white Richeson pastel surface, I knew I'd have plenty of tooth left after an underpainting.

Because this subject was fairly complex in the placement of the groups of rocks, I did a fairly careful and detailed sketch with soft vine charcoal the day before the class. This saved a lot of time for the demonstration itself. I blocked in large shapes of colors with a light layer of pastel, holding the soft pastel sticks on their sides. I washed each color section with turpenoid. The charcoal mingled with the pastel when I turped it, but since the charcoal was applied only in the areas that would be dark values, it didn't matter. Note that I left the area where the foamy white water would be untouched.

After drying the surface with a hair dryer, I had a good value plan for the composition. I painted the sky first, then the distant mountains. This subject is a stream in Scotland, and it was a misty "soft" day with rain coming and going. I wanted to make sure I got the feeling of the atmosphere on that day, so the value and temperature of the sky and distant hills was important.

Because this was a class demonstration about painting moving water, I skipped painting the trees and moved right to the water, so that I could show some important techniques. The water farther back is still, with lovely reflections of the left-hand bank of trees. As the water moves down over the rocks, there's a lot of action and color changes. When I paint moving water, I like to try to "feel" the water movement with my hand, letting the directional strokes of pastel tell the story. Note that some the rocks farther back are partially submerged; having painted them in the underpainting stage made it easy to retain just enough rock showing to explain the movement over that rock ledge.

Highland Stream, 16x20 pastel, ©Maggie Price
After I got the painting home, I studied it for a few days. Something kept bothering me about the rocks on the left. I finally realized they were just too bright, and took the attention away from the water crashing over the rocks. I muted their colors, moving them further into the shadow area. I kept the trees and shrubs simple; I wanted to indicate the presence of dense foliage, but it isn't the subject.

I'm not entirely sure this is finished. Sometimes I have to look at a painting for weeks before I decide to make further changes or decide it's ready to frame. I've found that it's risky to frame a painting too soon—I may end up unframing it to make one more change!

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