Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Problem of Tides

"Beachside Roses" 16x20, oil

I went back out to finish the 16x20 oil painting of beach roses I started on Wednesday.  As you recall, I had to stop working on it because the clouds rolled in, changing the light.  But I was determined to head out again on the first cloudless morning, and that was today.  Above is the finished piece.  If you compare it with what I posted on Wednesday, you can see the adjustments I made.

Trina took a picture of me while I was working this morning.  Look closely at the painting on the easel and note the water level.  Now look at the water level in the distance behind me.  They are very different.   That's because the tide shifts about 50 minutes each day.  If high tide is at 10 am one day, it's not going to be at 10 am the next day.  If you're working on a piece over multiple sessions, and you're going out the same time each day to capture the same lighting effects, the tide won't be there for you.  You'll have to wait about two weeks for things to get back to where they were.

But the problem of tides gets worse.  Here in the  Bay of Fundy, the tides are significant.  In Welshpool, they average 24 feet.  That is, they go from one extreme to the other - a 24-foot rise or drop - in about 6 hours.  If you do the math, that's almost an inch a minute!  How bad can that be over a typical plein air painting session?  Well, if you're out there for two hours, the tide will move about 8 feet.   The contour of the shore will be radically different in two hours.  And if you're painting boats, they'll be either 8 feet higher or 8 feet lower, which will play havoc with your perspective.

If you go up to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, the tides are even bigger - 53 feet.  I think I'll stay home.


marilyng said...

So funny re tides.
We were just looking at tide tables, comparing Lubec, ME, with Rockland, ME where we are now, and Sandy
Hook, NJ where we live much of the rest of the year.
Best to paint in NJ where tides vary very slowly and only for example about 5 feet all in all today over any
12 hour period.

Annapurna Moffatt said...

I think I'll stick to photography.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

Wow! That's a huge difference in scenery for the plein air painter with tides changing so much! You've done a beautiful job of this painting. We always talk about not chasing the shadows when plein air painting. Now, we have to add an addendum: don't chase the tides, either.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Marilyn, Annapurna and Katherine!

Helen O said...

Re Wolfville Tides: Fortunately, in Wolfville you do not see all of that 53 feet going up and down. The coastland here is bordered by great sea-bottom plains or empty tidal rivers for most of that time. So painting low tide Will give you mud flats and mud creek bottoms for about 12 hours or more, from at least half tide to half tide. However, if it is water you want; go somewhere else or be very fast with getting the water line down immediately - or at whatever point you choose for your composition.

To paint boats: sit on another boat (with permission!) or a float, if there is one. Then you go up and down at the same rate.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Good ideas, Helen!