Archive for August, 2010

The Universality of an Icon

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Down the Spiral Stair

The Cottage has been in our family for almost 100 years, and is now sheltering its seventh generation.  Over the years, innumerable photographs have been taken of the rustic house, the area, and the activities various family members and friends have participated in.  Some places, scenes, and activities have become iconic.  Some are so often photographed that it becomes difficult to identify any of the resulting pictures with either a date or a specific photographer.

I challenged myself this summer to look for new ways to feature both its universality and its icons in my paintings.

The family gathers there, certainly, to keep in touch with one another, to renew old friendships and develop new relationships with more recent family members.  But we go there also for the reminiscence, to revisit our history and remember our roots.  We go to reconnect with ourselves and our beginnings, revisiting our youth through the young people frolicking as we once did, and to accept our changing position as we find ourselves joining the ranks of the older generations.

The painting “Down the Spiral Stair” (#100803) depicts not only a unique feature of our family home but represents a universality, as well, as we glimpse the twisting route most of our lives take.  It’s both a link and path between what we’ve come from and where we’re going.  As children, we may press our faces to the posts at the top and peer down, wondering where those steps will lead.  We proceed step by step through life, trusting in the old traditions, like a well worn banister, to guide and steady us.  The banister is pieced together of several strips of wood, just as our clans are blends of a variety of families and backgrounds, with spouses and adopted children grafted in to become one with the rest.

There are dark corners where the dust collects, and mementoes that those who have gone before us have acquired and personalized along the way.  What else will we find along the way?  What traces will we leave behind us?  What new discoveries will we make once we navigate that final step?

Water, water everywhere

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

One of my goals this summer was to learn to depict water convincingly.  As I studied the play of light on the surface of water in so many of its different moods, and attempted to reproduce the appearance on paper, I discovered that although water does have a natural color of its own, it is better to illustrate it obliquely than directly.

Lakeside Cottage

What do I mean by that?  Water’s character, like that of any other subject, is revealed in the form and character of the reflections and shadows that play across the surface and in its depths.  Water’s transparency provides an extra dimension that opaque subjects don’t have.

Among other things,  though water is transparent, it does have color.  This means that ripples on the surface of the water itself create shadow patterns on underlying surfaces, through which the water’s natural hue is revealed.  In shallow water the natural color is usually so pale as to seem utterly colorless.  Yet deeper water may reveal it to be quite green or turquoise or a purpley-blue.

Though I have heard various explanations for this phenomenon, I am inclined to believe it is due to the variety of minerals dissolved in the water in different locales and the organisms that live in it.  When it’s laden with sand or mud, of course, it carries the color of the soil, as well.  For the purposes of painting, the cause is less important than how it affects the overall appearance to be depicted.

In the painting Lakefront Cottage (#100608), shown above, the water is relatively shallow, so it reveals little of its natural color influence.  Instead, the reflections depict the colors of the plantings and structures on the land, while the shadows in the ripples pick up underlying colors of sand and stone.  The reflections are broken and extended to suggest the rippling surface.  The sky is reflected in the light areas amid the reflections and ripple shadows.  Unlike shadows, which fall in the direction opposite the light source, the lights and darks of reflections are aligned directly underneath their counterparts, with appropriately mirrored angles.   Reflections are broken to the extent that the water’s surface is disturbed.  Quieter water would create sharper-edged, less broken reflections, whereas a wind-riffled surface might show no more than an overall dark/light reflection pattern with no reflected detail at all.