Mississippi River Reflection | plein air painting on the colorful side of the river

I have been doing a lot of painting set up on the banks of rivers in the last few months.  I have noticed in my own paintings that some days the colors reflected in the water are quite intense. More saturated.   Other days, the reflections are a bit more washed out.  Still beautiful. Still a wonderful effect, but just not as intense when it comes to the color.
For Mississippi River Reflections above, I went out with the intention (here’s that artistic goal-setting thing again) of painting the water’s surface with bold, intense color.  I admit it, I was looking through a couple of my big coffee table books on Impressionist paintings and I was inspired.  But how in the heck do you ensure that your reflections are going to be bold and colorful? There may be no guarantee, but there are things that you can do to help the process along.

Not a cloud in the sky or care in the world.

The first and most important step is to take a look at the sky.  I was painting on a sunny day.  In comparison to an overcast or gray day, bright sun is always going to reveal or show more color out in nature, or any where else for that matter.
Secondly, I was painting at mid-morning with the sun behind me.  What difference does it make where the sun is?  Head outside at a time of day other than noon. It can be some time in the morning or in the afternoon.  The time isn’t that important.  It just can’t be a time when the sun is directly above you like it is at noon.  I should add that it’s easiest to do this on a day with very few or no clouds in the sky.  Now take a look at the sky around the sun.  Note how intense, or strong, the color blue is.  Now turn around.  Take a look at the sky with the sun behind you.  If all goes well, the blue of the sky will appear noticeably darker and more intense.
Mississippi River, St. Paul, Minnesota
Mississippi River, St. Paul, Minnesota

Rolling on the river.

So, now that anyone watching you thinks you’re a crazy person, starring up at the sun while spinning around in a circle, it’s time to head back down to the river.  My painting had a good chunk of sky in it.  The intensity of the reflections in the water is going to mirror the intensity of color of the sky.  Actually, and this is a big generality here, the reflections in the water are almost always darker and warmer than the object being reflected.  That means that sky, trees, and rocks reflected in a river will be a slightly darker, and slightly warmer blue, green, brown, gray, or whatever color.  A warmer color is a very relative thing.  For example, a green with more yellow-orange in it is going to look warmer than a green with more blue in it.
This all goes back to the idea of being thoughtful and mindful as you are setting out on an outdoor painting trip.  I wanted a river that was full of bold, intense reflected color.  That was my goal.  I picked the spot that I thought would give me the best visual information to work from.  No matter what your artistic goal is, there is almost always a way that your choice of subject matter can be tweaked to give you the best shot at  producing a great painting.

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