The Art of Water

Gracie Creek

Water is in art, literally. We use water as a solvent for many of our paints and inks, not just in water colors. Water is the universal solvent, after all. Water is often the focus of art, too. Paintings of seascapes grace the halls of art museums. We learn of Turner’s and Homer’s seascapes in art history classes, perhaps relegating this knowledge to our own dustbin of irrelevant facts, but the way they captured the nature of water is brilliant. Creating the image of water using paints, inks, charcoal, pencil or other media is challenging. How water sparkles, how it pools on leaves or glides over rocks, how it scintillates in the very air! I am using my own images here but by no means want to indicate that I have mastered the art and skill of representing water. I just really like water and try to capture it in art.

Permeable or impermeable. Water reflects light being permeable or may appear impermeable, a solid surface representing the world around it. This solid appearance may be the easiest to render in art. At this point the water becomes an abstraction and a mirror. SLC Winter OneOr it may absorb light and become a barrier to what we seek to find. We have all seen art in which a pool reflects mountains or forest. Perhaps you have seen a work in which the water is a dark pool pulling you closer, but revealing nothing, a mystery that compels. These mysterious pools certainly compel me. I seek them out to look for midges, those secret pools, cold springs, bogs, backwaters, where midges thrive. At this point art and science or STEAM intersect for my work. These habitats draw me in to explore their natural history, and they, in turn, inspire my art. The great thing about small, hidden pools is that they can be found nearly everywhere, in a back alley, near a river, behind a boulder, frozen in a winter stream.

Detail of Sandhill Crane illustration 

The natural history print. Another early inspiration for me was the art of duck stamps. Yes, I have a coffee table book of duck stamp art. My entire career simply may be a path toward painting my first wood duck in a riparian wetland. Someday. The aquatic environment is often part of natural history print compositions from bird paintings to fish, from water lilies to phytotelmata. Water may be represented by a few simple lines to fully fleshed renderings of the aquatic environment. Some of my favorites works illustrate aquatic insects in streams and lakes or adult dragonflies hovering over ponds. Fish, trout in particular, are often shown in the sun-speckled environs of fast flowing, cobble-strewn streams. The light leaps from the art, from the water rendered by the artist. Leaves and rocks form part of these compositions, in which the artist, either knowingly or unknowingly represents the food web in the ecosystem.

Abstract of bridgeCapturing water through the lens. Although it may seem easier to capture the fascinating qualities of water using photography, it is not. The artist must still find a way to represent those elements outlined above, scintillation, reflections, absorption. And it is difficult to illustrate the aquatic ecosystem fully using a lens. Most of my photos seen in the Tethysphere posts are used to represent select aspects of these systems. I have tried to capture the way light just shines in the air of western Montana, but have failed to do so. Clearly, masters of the camera have been successful. Indeed, I have more than one coffee table book of Ansel Adams’ work. Right now I am experimenting with more intimate photographs of water, trying different compositions.Fluid rock

Abstractions. Water as a medium can be splashed on water paint, acrylics,evaporate 4.jpg pottery and glazing. Salt and ink may be added to water to create patterns and the artist may herd this partially controlled chaos to create something new and intriguing. Recently, I have been interested in how water forms patterns and then in using those patterns to create compositions.This started when I left a pan of water outside and the water evaporated leaving behind a crystalline pattern. The water was very hard, filled with minerals and the evaporation was rapid enough to create this pattern. I soon started looking for these patterns in everything from sidewalks to rocks to the bottom of my coffee cups. I capture these patterns with my camera and then create something new, a mosaic, a background, a new image. In some work water is the focus, the medium, and the inspiration.

Multiverse 1
Detail of “Multiverse”, Art by Barbara Hayford, 2017.

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