Painting Waterfalls in Connecticut

This week I had the opportunity to go to Connecticut to learn from Mark Boedges, an incredibly talented Vermont painter who learned under master artist Richard Schmid.  Mark is masterful with his paint application, moving the viewer through luminous transparencies to a profusion of shapes and colours, and then topping it all off with juicy thick paint flecks – all leaving us with a gorgeous abstract up close, and a perfectly realistic image from far.  I could hardly wait to see, tactically, how he creates so much mystery in his paintings.

Even more exciting was when Mark said our subject would be waterfalls.   If there’s any subject matter that scares me, it has to be rushing water!   But Mark would be demoing in the mornings, and then allowing us to try out the process in the afternoons.  If I was ever going to get my Waterfall Painting Badge (shouldn’t we artists have those?) then now was the time!

We painted for two days.  On Monday afternoon I made “Devil’s Hopyard I”, which is a view of the entire waterfall.  It’s about three stories tall and the day was HOT (90F plus humidity), so I edited out all the swimmers and rock climbers that shared the day with us, and focused on the waterfall hues and textures (while ignoring the – ahem – sweat waterfalls!).

Scroll down to see the painting process in detail.

IMG_9890Devil’s Hopyard I, 11×14 Oil on Archival Panel (SOLD)

On Tuesday I hiked down and around to the base of the falls to create “Devil’s Hopyard II”, where I focused on just the bottom cascade.  The afternoon light was reflecting up off the pool and onto the rocks above – the whole thing shimmering and sparkling.  After tackling the water on day 1, I wanted to add the additional challenge of the golden reflected light.  I’m really happy with how they both turned out!

IMG_9898Devil’s Hopyard II, 8×10 Oil on Archival Panel

To Mark Boedges: thank you for sharing your expertise, wisdom and fun!  You took me through my fears and helped me to LOVE painting rushing water.

Also a shout-out to the 16 Connecticut artists who joined the workshop.  Thank you for sharing your gem of a countryside, and for being such wonderful hosts!  I look forward to seeing you all again in this plein air community.

Yours in paint,


The Process

  1. Start by toning the canvas with transparent washes.  Artists frequently do this with one colour, but Mark’s unique approach was to vary the transparent underlay as much as possible.  My toned canvas below reflects colours that are actually there.  The falls are warm in the foreground at the bottom of the canvas, and progress up to cooler purple tones as they move away from the viewer (alizarin).  Also note that I’m already thinking about hues at this phase: the rocks on the right are in shadow and are very cool (ultramarine), whereas the rocks on the left hand side are hit with dappled light and so are relatively warmer.


2. Wipe out the highlights using paper towels, Q-Tips, etc.  I captured an image of this phase on day 2:


3. Continue to boost up the shadows and blackest blacks.  While I’m doing this I’m paying a lot of attention to hue: areas hit by light are warmer than areas in shadow (in other words, sunlight is warm, shadows are cold).  But the darkest deepest shadows inside the shadows become warm again.  Take a look at the dark shadow above the blue rock, below, which is a shadow inside a shaded area, and compare it to the shadow in the centre of the waterfall.  The latter has a lot more blue in the ultramarine/iron oxide mix.

In the image below, you can also see me starting to add more opaque paints (i.e., paints mixed with white), which moves us into step 4:

4. Paint in the lightest lights.  In both waterfalls my lightest lights were hit by warm sun, so I warmed my titanium white with yellows.


5. Finally, we can paint the rest of the painting!  Just copy the dots of colour as you see them.  I’m thinking of a few things while I do this:

  • What is the exact colour temperature of the dot that I’m placing, and is it in shadow (cool), in light (warm), or in deepest darkest shadow (firey, juicy red!).  A side note: on a low overcast day, these relationships will actually reverse.
  • What is the exact shape of the dot that I’m placing?  Which brush will help me to recreate it?
  • What is the texture of the dot?  I found really good brushes indispensable for creating the waterfall effects, as well as my palette knife.
  • What does the edge look like?  In the waterfalls, the edges took some blending (for soft edges), and some palette knife work (for hard edges).

6.  Add final flourishes.  These are mostly accomplished with a loaded palette knife tip: spray coming off rocks, leaves in sunlight, etc.  I try to concentrate these around the area of interest in the painting.  This is something I saw in Mark and Richard’s paintings and have adopted into my repertoire – definitely check theirs out!

7.  By the time I got home the paintings were almost dry, so I actually added a final layer of glazing with transparent washes where I wanted to boost the darks and cool some of the water cascades that are moving into shadow.  Kapow!  🙂

If you’re local to the Toronto area, you can find waterfalls in Hamilton and Dundas, and at Hilton Falls in Milton (where else?).  Shoot me an email if you want to go tackle them together!


Further Reading & Local Waterfalls

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