Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thoughts on Waterfalls

I went on an Urban Sketchers adventure to the Ira Keller Fountain yesterday. This hidden park in the heart of downtown Portland has an astonishing set of fountains that mimic a rugged, rocky waterfall--it's really astonishing to behold.

As I sat there, trying to capture the movement of the water with my pen and watercolors, I could clearly remember a field trip I took when I was in junior high school. We were at some natural monument with a very tall waterfall, and it was impressive to stand at the base of it and look up towards the top of the falls. The roaring noise, the dynamic and shifting patterns of water and gravity, the fresh spray on your skin, the distinct temperature difference in this misty place. I had my little tourist-camera, but it was patently clear to me that there was very little point in trying to take pictures of a waterfall--how could a still picture even come close to capturing the amazement of being there, the overwhelming multi-sensory feel of it all?

With that memory in mind, I entered into this sketch wondering if I'd be totally thwarted at trying to capture the astonishing sound, motion, and texture of this monument to falling water. I tried studying the patterns of how the water behaved at different moments in its fall, and was amazed to see how different the dynamic was on all of these surfaces. Sometimes it flows smoothly and quietly over an edge and then gradually gets more turbulent (and therefore more white and frothy) as it falls. Sometimes it makes a graceful arc that's very regular. Sometimes it dives over the edge in distinct writhing ribbons of water that meld together further down.  Sometimes it's a crazy diagonal splatter, volleys of water-blotches fired out of a machine-gun. The variety was mind-boggling.

I look at this sketch now and I know that I didn't capture it perfectly, that it's just a shadow of the multi-sensory experience of being there in person. But, sitting there and doing the sketch gave me a chance to really look, to really think, about the shapes and patterns and angles and motion. I think that my junior-high self would agree with my current self that it was well worth the time to draw the picture. I may not have been able to capture it as gloriously as I wanted, but I got to spend time really looking at the scene, and that was well worth the adventure.  

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