Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Not So Still Life: Running Water

One of my favourite things to paint are the reflections and refractions in water.  Similar to reflections on shiny metal surfaces such as stainless steel or chrome, apparently abtract forms are suddenly brought to life when carefully copied from a still life composition into paint.  While it may be difficult to capture the peel of a lemon or the delicate beauty or a flower petal, the human eye easily recognises water as water, no matter how inaccurate the shapes within it look, a lemon may turn out lumpy, but strange bends and distortions in water are just taken for granted.

A few years ago I had been itching to paint running water but my camera just wasn't good enough to capture the fast movement as a still shot, it kept compensating for lack of light by holding the shutter open longer than I wanted and the flow of water would result in a blurred column. I enlisted the help of a friend who owned an SLR camers and managed to get a few good images to work from over the following months, one of them being the self-portrait above of me spilling a glass of water down my chin, and the other of hands catching water to the right.

As you may be able to see, the hardest part of both of the paintings was the human skin surrounding the flowing water.  I seem to have been able to capture the hand a bit better in the self-portrait, I could probably have tried a bit harder in the other painting but I was getting bored after meticulously copying the cascade of bouncing water, which contained so many little abstract shapes which I wanted to get right to give the overall impression a realistic look, that I had had enough by the time I got to the hands.  The tap and the plug (yes, it's a black plug wound around the tap) were the easiest to capture, as long as the outline of the handles and spout were correct I couldn't really go wrong with the reflections themselves.

The self portrait is actually a much bigger painting than the one of the tap and I was using a small brush for the reflections and the hands.  For some reason I kept using this small brush as I began working on the face, although I would normally use a larger brush to cover bigger surfaces.  This has resulted in the face having a patchy, cross-hatched look which I ended up leaving as I quite liked it, and more importantly I didn't want to ruin.  Sometimes at the end of a painting I get worried about messing it up and will leave a painting slightly unfinished for fear of losing the effect I have managed to achieve.

I eventually got my own SLR camera and took some photos of a glass overflowing with water in my kitchen, for some reason I don't like this painting as much, maybe it's the composition or lack of colours, certainly the skin on the hands looks a little wrong, but here it is anyway:

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