October Light on Cape Cod


Judith Reeve, “Dune Forms”, oil on linen, 12″x 16″.

Last year, I started traveling to the outer Cape in October rather than May. Although most times May is warmer, the sun is high above the horizon and the light is very bright tending to wash color out of the landscape. The October light is quite different. The sun is low on the horizon as we approach the shorter days of December. And because of this, the light is a beautiful rose color tending toward the orange-yellow. It is also a mellow light where the color of the landscape is harmonized within that super-color. Tones within the landscape are clearly visible and in a sense, enhanced. The only difficulty due to the low position of the sun, rests in one’s ability to capture that sensation of light rather quickly as the shadows change more dramatically as the sun moves. But it is well worth it.

Judith Reeve, “Deserted Cliff Head”, oil on linen, 10″ x 16″.

This year I had hoped to paint the surf as I did last year, but when I got there things changed. The surf was subdued with little action. But the dunes in that October light were stunning. I spent the week focused on these dramatic cliffs of sand. Where I go on the Cape, the Marconi area, the dunes are the highest and most spectacular. It is also more desolate. Few people travel down this stretch of beach very far. It almost feels foreign in its isolation. I think this adds to the feeling of grandeur and immensity of this stretch of coast. I prefer this type of space when I paint the landscape or the sea. It is a space that yields self-reflection and renewed focus.

Judith Reeve, “Shifting Sands”, oil on linen, 12″ x 16″.

Painting these dunes, which are so fragile yet withstand the highest tides and the fiercest storms, I could see both realities. As I stood there on the beach, I could see the sand cascading downward in pyramidal cones to the base- the dune literally disappearing before my eyes. But when I gazed at the whole aspect of the cliffs, I could feel the power of their perseverance to stand and hold their place in the world. At the end of the day, it was difficult to tear myself away from them.

Judith Reeve, “Dune Cliff Edge”, oil on linen, 10″ x 16″.

This landscape is a very horizontal one. Although the cliffs are high and vertical, they stretch on and on and occupy one’s peripheral vision as one paints. They are also balanced by the endless sea and its presence. So my compositions tend toward this strong horizontal. My favorite color was that orange that I mixed for Maine- R (alizarin +cadmium red med.) + Y (cadmium lemon + raw sienna + touch of viridian to cool it). This ended up being my imprimatura, with the addition of white and a touch of rose madder, in which I painted all the other tones while wet in one session. This created a unified effect and shows through in many places. It also highlighted that feeling of the rose colored light. I even let some of it show through in the sky effects.

Judith Reeve, “Gray Sea”, oil on board, 6″ x 8″.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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