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Puddle art.

Puddle art

How many times have you mistaken the reflection in a puddle for reality? Why not create your own "puddle art"? We've all walked down the street after a rainstorm and admired the reflections that dance in the puddles. Cities of the night are transformed into neon mirrors; colors and shapes of the day are reflected as narratives of themselves. Occasionally, an object floats in the puddle, and we can play visual games with the levels of existence revealed there, or notice a fanciful juxtaposition between the object and its reflection in the puddle. In an effort to raise this activity to an art, I have developed an interdisciplinary approach to art and have created "puddle photography," "books" and "furniture" that have great promise in school curricula.

I use puddle photography to create visual statements on a liquid canvas, and because I want to see upside down. The unique idea of using puddles as a medium stimulated my interest as well as the imaginations of my students. Puddle art developed once I began to understand the reflective properties of water. When objects are placed in water or painted on the bottom of a "puddle," two focal planes exist; the reflected image and the objects placed in the water. The principle of depth of field allows the eye to merge these focal planes into one image. The reflective properties of water also allow for a 360 [degrees] viewing which lends itself well to sculptural applications.

Puddle books

During various artist-in-residencies, I have used different techniques of puddle art in grades k-12. In the primary grades, a discarded library book, hollowed out and fitted with a waterproof lining, is mounted on a pedestal or chair and filled with water. When students stand on a specified mark on the floor, the puddle book becomes a mirror of the wall behind it.

When letters are placed upside down and reversed on a feltboard, their reflections can spell words in the puddle book. The children were confused at first by the reflection of reversed letters such as p, d and b. They assumed that the group of letters on the feltboard appeared the same way in the puddle. (If children continue to have problems with reversing letters or with depth of field perception, this may be an early warning sign of dyslexia or other learning disorders.) Once students understood the reflections, I placed a fragmentary word or sentence in the book and two different sets of words on the board so that the reflected words made sense with the words placed in the water, composing poetry and puddle art.

Puddle furniture

While working with the puddle books, I conceived and fabricated a piece of puddle furniture called HIS I NO. A table was built up with bricks to form a basin, the bottom of which was painted black. The words HIS I NO were stenciled on the bottom of the basin, while other letters were placed upside down and backwards on the wall behind it. The letters of HIS I NO appear the same when viewed from either way -- HIS I NO or ON I SIH. When groups of letters were placed on the wall, their reflections combined with the stencilled letters formed phrases or sentences on the furniture. For example, ON I SIH became ONe liner aeStHetic; and HIS I NO, tHIS Is NOt a sentence. This project was used with high school students and the English department in a special project involving poetry and art.

Puddle photography

I have designed and constructed a "portable puddle" -- a 3' x 4' (9.1 m x 12.2 m) black painted pan -- to be used when a street puddle is not available or proves too difficult to work with. By placing an object or objects in the puddle that correspond to or are juxtaposed with the reflections in the puddle, you can compose a photograph that appears humorous or fantastical.

As sunlight tends to bleach out the reflection in a puddle, leaving only the objects in the water for exposure, the portable puddle is usually placed in the shade. Weather is a controlling factor. If the reflection never stops rippling, you will get an impressionistic result rather than a mirror-like appearance. Sometimes a mirror is used to help illuminate a person or objects in a reflection. Highlights on objects in the water seem unnatural, and a mirror helps create a balance of light. If a mirror is not available and the puddle is in shadow but the people or objects are in sunlight, there will be a two f-stop exposure difference between what is darkest and what is lightest.

The technique of depth of field is the key to creating successful puddle photography. A tripod is used as sometimes shutter speeds of 1/8 or 1/15 of a second are required. With a normal lens (50 mm) using f-16 or f-22 will allow enough depth of field for both focal planes to be in focus. The objects placed in the water are usually two to four feet (.6 m to 1.2 m) away from the camera, and the reflection is usually ten to twenty feet (3 m to 6 m), so if you focus at six to eight feet (1.8 m x 2.4 m), both of the focal planes will be in focus.

For the last few years the ideas for puddle art have stemmed from language. I work just as hard at titling my work as I do assembling it. The titles unify the artwork. Once you understand the media of puddle art and photography, you can determine if an idea can best be expressed through them. These types of decisions are what makes art, as well as a little imagination and a sense of humor.

PHOTO : Eggs Over Easy St.

Julius Vitali is an artist/educator living and working in the Long Island, New York region.
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Author:Vitali, Julius
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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