In this new series of articles, San Diego artist and instructor Ron Lemen will explore the science behind what we see, in order to make our paintings more convincing. In each segment, you’ll learn something new about the natural world.
Lemen says he believes direct observation is the key, but understanding the physics behind things only improves one’s ability to depict them. “If you care about the subtext, it will show up in your painting,” says Lemen. “You don’t want to get lost in the science of it. You can still feel everything that you feel. But you will move your hand a little more intelligently if you know the science. You’ll know what it is that you are manipulating, and why. It’s the artist who makes the art.”
The edge of the ripple is considered the dead zone.
Lemen’s first installment deals with water ripples.
I used Photoshop here to explore the science of ripples. I created each effect on a separate layer to learn how water, ripples, refraction (how light is distorted by a surface), and caustic lighting (how light is distorted when it hits curves) work. This is not how you paint. It is a painting method of pure observation, and you can use it as a way of painting, but this would wear down any painter if this were how everything had to be put together. Note that I used two values to paint the color of the water, and two for the color of the shadows on the rocks lying on the bottom.
If it is shallow enough, you will see completely through the surface through all sides of the ripple.
The edge of the ripple at both sides is considered the dead zone to the eye because all of the surfaces are not as extreme in their angles to one another since they are all almost parallel to the view we have of them.
Another view of ripples showing caustic lighting, refraction, and the values of the objects under the surface.
As the clear ripple example indicates, if it is shallow enough you will see completely through the surface through all the sides of the ripple.