Nature is full of visual patterns, which might be defined as “visible regularities of form” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patterns_in_nature). Many patterns are static, but some are formed by moving water, air, or even molten earth. These are flow patterns. During my Sabbatical journey in 1976-77, I discovered the visual patterns of flowing water. Those simple patterns made a difference in the way I painted objects in nature. I had to account for them; I had to make sure I rendered them accurately in order for my painting to look “right.”
Here is how it began: “I sit on my art stool [by the San Miguel River, CO] and study the stream. My first attempts at painting don’t look like water. I do have the right colors for the river…The problem is my river doesn’t look flat, and it doesn’t flow. I study the San Miguel. I note the lines made by the moving current and how they elongate into graceful curves. Many of the lines are parallel to each other, curve for curve. I pick up watercolor on a fairly dry brush and imitate those curves. I work sparingly, ‘with economy,’ as my art instructor said, so as not to overdo. With just a few curving lines placed in a logical direction, the water flattens out visually and appears to flow. Hurray!
“I prop my painting in the sun to dry. I step back and take a good look at it. Those final curving lines look familiar. It was at the Coast, the curving tide lines along the beach. That’s not the only place. I remember the California sky the day we left home. Ice clouds in the stratosphere appeared as long flowing lines, gracefully curved into a long, lyrical rhythm. Aha! Flow patterns are formed by things that flow: water, air, and sometimes earth. This simple discovery makes all the difference. Curving flow lines add necessary detail for this painting. What other patterns are needed for water? There must be more. I pull out a little notebook and start a list.” (Excerpt from my memoir: The Road to Beaver Park, p. 34.)
That “Aha!” moment was my introduction to flow patterns, right there on the riverbank. It greatly expanded my visual perception. Water flows, air flows, and molten earth flows, and similar patterns can be found in them all, as well as the physical environment that they encounter and influence or shape. I had stumbled onto what Theodor Schwenk stated: “…that certain archetypal forms of movement may be found in all flowing media, regardless of their chemical composition.” (Sensitive Chaos, The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air, by Theodor Schwenk, Schocken Books, N.Y.: 1976)
In order to paint them authentically, I needed to suggest a given pattern with the brush, to make the painting look “right”. Thus began my search for more patterns characteristic of flowing elements...to be continued.