This is the last of a three-part series on water reflections. Reflections appear spontaneous and gestural, but they also follow definite laws.
Here’s a detail from a recent painting (page 31 of the new Dinotopia book), showing how an image is broken up by the wavelets. Edges with strong contrasts, like the brightly lit wall against the sky, or the dark boat hull, break up in a loose—but controlled—painterly way.
But subordinate edges, like the metal railings or the edge of the column, are blended and lost in the reflection. They might show up in a high-speed photo of the reflections (assuming the scene were real), but I don’t think the human eye would perceive them in real life.
In this plein-air painting in Mamaronek Harbor, I started with a warm underpainting and then laid down a light tone for the color of the reflected sky. Over this thinly painted but wet oil layer I added the calligraphic strokes of the reflections of the boat hulls.
This is a detail of the painting of Chandara from the new Dinotopia book. For a reflection like this, which follows the architecture very exactly, the perspective must be carefully constructed, even though the final reflections are painted quickly and gesturally.
The architectural forms in the reflection are drawn to the same vanishing points as the real forms in the scene. It’s not the same 2-D image inverted. That’s why the slope of the eves on the real projecting bay window (1) are different from the slope of the same forms in the reflection (2).
Perhaps there’s a broader lesson here about the artistic state of mind. I believe that the act of painting often consists of this strange combination of precision and freedom, accuracy and looseness. We need to think about physics and geometry, but at the same time, we have to surrender to an irrational impulse.