Waves, water movement and paint

How do you describe a wave or an almost-wave in paint? To represent the sense of surge and the associated feeling it is important to portray water with some accuracy. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Or nearly impossible. Accurate water!

Here are some photographs, the second of which I have been working from recently.Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia.

If you look closely you can see the same seaweed in all three pictures. They were taken in quick succession and show the transition before and after the ‘wave’. Not a lot seems to be happening before and after. The surge might have arisen from a cross-current underneath the jetty.

Here is where I left the painting in late May.

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

During my August Open Studio sessions I had a visit from a friend and outdoor painting colleague, Tony Wynne. It had been sometime since we had seen each other because I had withdrawn from that group to immerse myself in studio painting this year.

Tony is a fellow artist with a great interest in drawing, which he has studied in some depth including in galleries and print rooms in Australia and in the UK.  It is always interesting to see what he puts up at lunchtime after our outdoor sessions. Tony is also a retired coastal engineer who understands how waves should look, so I was interested in his response to how I painted waves. I am pleased to report that, with perhaps one or two exceptions, he found my waves convincing from a scientific point of view and pleasing artistically, especially in the gestural sense of water movement.

Although it is not as effective as seeing the real thing and hearing Tony talk about it, you can get a bit of an idea of his work through his website here.

I am thinking of all this today as I sit with this painting.

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

It isn’t really readable at the moment and looking back at the photo I wonder whether it ever can be.

My work has always been grounded in realism. Water and waves offer the potential for more abstraction. There’s the nub, the brink I am teetering on:  letting go of the ‘explanation’ and just diving in.

So far I have done some of each – trying to keep everybody happy? feeling safe myself?

Just keep going! As ever, not sure where the answer lies, except in painting itself. Any ideas?

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26 thoughts on “Waves, water movement and paint

  1. Being happy with it yourself ? (rather than keeping “others” happy ?). Maybe letting go and letting the water “flow” (corny, I know). I sometimes feel at my painting best when I paint “as if it doesn’t matter”. Anyone who even attempts to paint water has my greatest respect, its the ultimate challenge I think 🙂

  2. Yes, V. what is that thing about dancing as if noone is looking? I am considering going to a Sh’bam class at the local gym – as if it matters! Might even go back outdoors and look for a giraffe – gotta toughen up, eh?

    1. Sh’bam, I had to Google that – and it sounds great 🙂 Maybe visualise a giraffe doing a Sh’Bam ? Is it hard(er) to paint waves from a photo ? I was wondering this yesterday in relation to painting portraits (another of my “most difficult” subjects), only having a photo to work from it seemed to get increasingly difficult, the harder I “looked” the less I could see ! Would a surfer be able to paint “better” waves than a non-surfer ?
      Tony’s scientific knowledge as a coastal engineer sounds invaluable and his feedback sounds great.
      Definitely “keep going” P, I love yoru waves 🙂

      1. Thanks for all your comments V. I hope the sh’bam you found is the same one I meant! Perhaps it is all about working from a photo – the info is already defined and limited in unhelpful ways. The theme at art school was that it created lifeless results. blood out of a stone? Not sure about surfer-painters – would have to look that up!

  3. I think this is the problem or difference between working from reality and from a photo. For such a momentary thing as a wave it is impossible to capture that moment in situ, and yet easier to be spontaneous. I like the earlier stage of that painting too!

    1. You and Victoria have put your finger on it I think Diana. Photography vs reality as inspiration. The approach through photography seems more about captured surfaces rather than depths. A difficult corner to paint myself into!

      1. Hi P, I liked Diana’s comment and it made me wonder whether you could (or already do) go “beyond” a photo as reference, say, by taking short video clips with your camera, to bring back to the studio and replay whilst you are working ? (my camera is very basic but can take short action clips, when I remember which buttons to press !) It wouldn’t be as good as being in situ, but better than a flat, still image – more actual atmosphere and life, the birth of the wave(s) ? I’ve total confidence you will paint your way out of this corner 🙂

  4. Whatever works for such an ephemeral subject has my respect. Classical teaching had students drawing and painting from plaster busts etc – not much difference to photographs. Water, waves, clouds are all so amorphous – how to stop their motion long enough to represent their motion? I am inspired by your ability to do this whatever the process…

    1. Perhaps there can be a comparison between different types of reference material, but the play of light on a 3D subject is a very rich resource. Anyway, more painting coming up. Thanks again. Philippa

  5. Your painting from May is better because it gives the feeling of water ! maybe the last one you tried too hard too make waves.
    But exercise will pay. Keep on trying and the results will grow !

    1. Thanks for your comment elly. It is sadly true that trying hard doesn’t always get the right result! But yes, I will keep on painting and see what happens. Good to have your opinion on this. Philippa

      1. Don,t feel sad, if you take away some of the white from the foam of the sea it will look much better. If you feel like it you can see some seas I printed, you have to go to wood -print on my blog and I made about a hundred and throw away a lot and after all maybe 30 are good in my opinion. And your first one is really good !! Keep going, a lot of success! Elly

    2. Hi Elly, I had a good look at your wood-prints today. They are beautiful; quite dreamlike. I love the way the woodgrain lends itself to the sea’s surface texture in some pieces. Thank you for sharing these. I plan to do more gazing at them!

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