From 99 º F to 65 º in two days

At Rochester, the shore of Lake Ontario is flat and covered with fine cobblestones. The shoreline is very even. It is hard to break up the strong horizontal and diagonal lines, except by putting in the dark overhanging trees.

What the lake lacks in architecture it makes up for with incredible light and color. On a windy day, the water shifts from violet to emerald as cloud shadows fly across its surface.

It was 65 º F when we got there with steadily strengthening winds. By noon, the wind was so strong, there were whitecaps on the lake and my hat had blown away. Of course, this fellow was happy…

I start with a crude sketch in Transparent Earth Orange (Gamblin’s transparent version of Burnt Sienna). My first pass is a very static composition, since I’ve divided the canvas into three equal spaces with two well-balanced lumps in the foreground.

I move the horizon line up gradually. I’d wanted clouds racing across the sky but realize you can’t have it all. I hope to break the bottom diagonal with little hummocks of plants along the shore.

The horizon moves even higher and only the clouds distant over Ontario remain. In truth, the only darks are in the foliage on the shore but I don’t want to weight the bottom of my painting so much. The shadow color on the water ranges from tints of ultramarine to quinacridone violet, depending on when you look. The green ranges from yellowish to emerald green.

My first pass is mainly to establish darks. Often the highest chroma in Lake Ontario is at the horizon line and the color of the water becomes less saturated the nearer you are to it. (This is the opposite of most long views, where the color becomes lower key the farther away you look.)

Next I establish an overall color scheme. I like this little sketch at this point, but I am concentrating so much on the water lighting that I don’t notice I’m “regularizing” the shapes in the foreground. The mind wants so much to balance things, but that same symmetry will dissatisfy me farther on. (The lump on the left is a young box elder and the wind at this point was bending it nearly double.)

I need to set the diagonals of the breakers, which appear to change angle as you scan the shore because they are rolling in from the west (over my left shoulder). Although the angle changes, the waves break at about the same distance from the shore no matter what direction you are looking.

I begin to consider the interstices between the breakers and develop the foliage in the front. Unfortunately, my painting pal has to leave, so we call it a day.

My biggest issue with this painting is to make the foreground shapes more interesting. I also want to refine the waves. But again, I want to do this on location, rather than in studio.