Monday, March 29, 2010

Down at the waterline

Above is an example of a seascape painting that is not down in a hole. This is by Frederick Waugh, who was Americas finest seascape painter. He painted scads of them, and was enormously successful. He is not as well known today except among lovers of seascape painting. I will use him as an example often during the upcoming lessons on the subject.

Even if this place existed ( it is probably constructed from bits and pieces of real places that Waugh combined in his imagination) you couldn't set up this low on the waterline without the waves rearranging your equipment every twenty seconds or so. There are some very important advantages to this level's view though. Some of them are.
  • Like receding "flats" in a theater set, the objects sit one in front of another, and step back at an oblique angle into the picture plane. This groups the forms and gives great potential for showing how those forms recede.
  • It eliminates the great desert of water above the surf and below the horizon that has little going on in it of interest and is always a problem to paint.
  • It allows the artist to show the front side, the business end of the wave. When looking down on waves, their backs appear, the backs of waves are not very useful in portraying the oncoming waves, although glimpses of them do reveal the forms of the wave..
  • This view is the most dramatic, it makes us think that wave is coming right at us. This gives more drama than having the waves flopping harmlessly about in a giant washtub at our feet. There is excitement because that wave is COMING RIGHT AT US!
  • The low vantage point drops the horizon, so that the water and rocks can break and conceal that straight line. That's a big help from a design standpoint. That long unbroken horizon is a big problem in seascape. Notice above, how Waugh ran those rocks up to such a height that they tower over our heads, their jagged vertical forms countering the horizontal thrust of the oncoming sea.
Because of this desire to paint an impossible viewpoint, most seascape painters are studio painters. They paint lots of studies on location, some of which are marketable, but most of their finished art is assembled in the studio.

I painted the water today in Rockport, Massachusetts at Halibut Point. There was real good surf and I made a sketch that is very promising. After I work on it a little, if I don't ruin it, I will post it on the blog as an example of something or other.


Nita Leger Casey said...

Stape,Great post!
It was nice seeing you today in Rockport , I wish I had the time to paint myself , my kids were coming from SC and needed to get home. cant wait to see what you did, I took a few pictures on my way out of town , it was a nice day !

Carol Nelson said...

Thanks for another great post. That is an awesome painting. Waugh was also an excellent painter of rocks. So many colors in those rocks.

DennyHollandStudio said...

Wow, after that post I think I'll take another shot of Liquin- thanks, Stape!

willek said...

It must have been beautiful yesterday at Halibut Point, and it must have been cold. Homer's seascapes in particular seem to me to really emphasize the profiles of two or three waves. Very low viewpoints.

Deborah Paris said...

Wow, that's a nice Waugh! That rock on the left with its shadowed face leading into the surf is just wonderful. And your post is excellent as always.

I did the Laguna Beach plein air show for a couple of years and it was my first intro to painting surf. I was intimidated by it and the company I was in. But, my fondest memory is painting on the beach while some of my more experienced colleagues set up out on the rocks. The wind was blowing my way and I could hear them talking about who the heck I was and how did I get into the show. About a half an hour later they were all scrambling to get off the rocks as the surf started rearranging their equipment as I watched (and painted ) from the shore.

billspaintingmn said...

Thanks Stape. I'm paying close attention to all this.

Philip Koch said...

I was thinking about Stape's comments about keeping the horizon low with surf paintings. Then I remembered that Fairfield Porter, of all people, did some creditable surf paintings with good volumetric waves and, as one would expect from Porter, some unusual colors. Thinking about Porter's waves I realized how much their success depended on the kinds of things Stape is talking about.

It is alway interesting when you see an intersection of someone like Stape, who comes out of the Rockport School tradition with some modernist oriented realist like Fairfield Porter. Sometimes the different branches of contemporary painting speak to each other in intriguing ways.

Porter, in my opinion can sometimes be very good. I do wish he'd worked on his drawing more, but then he never asked for my advice when back when he was alive.

Unknown said...

A lower eye line gives you more sky too - which you can make more interesting than the "desert of ocean" found in a higher eye level painting, right?

Unknown said...

great series here! I'm almost tempted to paint ocean!

I'm hoping to get over to rockport to see Todd's show this week. And, if weather permits, maybe to try out a few of your tips!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I made a painting with a problem. I will fix it and maybe post it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to let you in on a Waugh secret weapon for painting rocks. But not tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement. Have you tried the Galkyd?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I had my heavy acrtic coat on, but it was only raw, not real cold. After snowcamp, you should no longer fear cold, although snowcamp W was not so brutal.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am surprised they didn't kn ow who you were. Who did they think they were?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Tonight, BEAKS

Stapleton Kearns said...

Fairfield Porter, I hung around Maine so much that I felt like I should have met him. I like his brother better and Coleman Porter the most.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes the sky is easy to fill with interest.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I saw the show it was very good. I also met Todd. Whenever I return to the art association it is like old home week.

Debbie Lamey-MacDonald said...

Beautiful painting!! Really enjoying your seascape posts Stape!! Thanks so much! :D