Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Far Horizon

The " horizon line" in a painting is where the sea and sky meet,  at the eye level of the viewer, so if you are standing looking at the sea, it is one place, if you sit down it will shift higher. Here is the wiki definition if you want to get more technical and a picture of the horizon line from space 

The horizon line is the first thing I put down in a seascape. I have lots more to say about horzions, but placement is the basis of the painting so we'll start here. Where you draw the horizon line  dictates the point of view of the entire work, where you will stand in your own mind as you enter and enjoy the painting. It has great psychological effect and sets the tone and mood. After all it is where you are placing your viewer, so think carefully about where you put it.  Placed high you have room for a foreground and plenty of wave action, placed low the sky will start to dominate. One of the painting principals I use is; What ever is most important gets the most real estate.  So if I'm interested in the wave, it will have a big chunk of square inches in the work. I will not have room for a big wave unless I place the horizon line high.

Here are some samples of seascapes, some contemporary most from 1850-1950. Notice where the horizon line is, and how that affects the emotional state as well as you look at these. 

 Clyde Aspevig, The Headlands
Here he has put us way up in the air, on a high cliff looking down. This could be tricky except in the hands of a master like Aspevig.

 Alexander Harrison, The Wave
Here we are standing on the beach, perhaps sitting on a small sandbank, your eyes are level with the true horizon

Charles Vickery, Pacific Voyage
notice on this one the horizon is only implied, we'd have to be in a small dingy to get this view, and I would be hanging over the side getting rid of lunch. Vickery really knew his water and his ships.

Frederick Waugh, Evening Surf
We are standing on the beach or maybe some low rocks

Frederick Waugh, Glint of Sun
this is more ambiguous , we could be on a surfboard, or standing in the water or on a jetty.

                                                                                           William Trost Richards, Summer
We know exactly where we are here and not worried about storms or big waves, riptides, so we can completely relax into this tranquillity.

It is possible to paint a seascape without any horizon line at all, as in this David Curtis painting a view common if you stand overlooking the ocean from a high cliff, but here our eyes are directed down, not out as in the first Aspevig work.


  1. Awesome! This is a great essay on the effect of horizon line placement. Thanks for the brilliant examples of different points of view.

    Really, it's up to what you want to make the main element of the painting, anywhere you put it sets the scene and turns into "Where is the viewer?" It took me a lot to even start getting this and your article made it completely clear.


  2. glad it was a help, I remember what a revelation it was to me the first time I got it. It was landscape essay, but it's even more important in seascapes as there is less in the way of seeing one.

  3. great points :>)

    I like the work of David Curtis too - have you come across Kurt Jackson or Paul Lewin who paint in Cornwall (and elsewhere)? I think you would relate to their work. Also Sarah Wimperis who has a blog too.

  4. Thanks Vivien
    I think Paul Lewin is fantastic, so abstract yet stay true to the land and place, I'll look up the other two, always glad to see new work, they always teach me something, even if I don't want to paint that way.

  5. Wonderful post! Working on my first seascape, so great thoughts to keep in mind! Lovely examples I wasn't familiar with too! Thanks for posting.

  6. I've gone back a long way looking for help in painting seascapes, also look for the books of E John Robinson....he's the very best place to start, covers everything and is not didactic. Try Marine Painting in Oil, to start it has all the parts and basics.

  7. The fourth picture from the top is not a Waugh.Pretty sure of that!