When the sun is high in the sky, its light travels a relatively short path through the atmosphere to reach your eye, the viewing point of the light. In that sunlight are all of the wavelengths of visible light, and each wavelength is viewed as a different color. The molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, mostly nitrogen and oxygen molecules, scatter some of those wavelengths, but not others. Because those molecules are small compared with the wavelengths of visible light, they only end up scattering the shorter wavelengths, sending­ those light beams in all directions, out of the direct path of the light on its way to your eye. This selective scattering of wavelengths, or colors, is called Rayleigh scattering. The sky is blue during the daytime because the wavelengths for violet and blue are the shortest in the spectrum. They are scattered more than any other colors in the light, and as these wavelengths scatter across the sky, that sky turns blue.

As the sun moves across the sky, this changes. At high noon, the distance between the earth and the sun is the shortest; at sunset, when the sun is at the horizon, that distance is the longest. When the distance is longer, there’s more atmosphere for the light to travel through before you perceive it. Rayleigh scattering is still in effect, but it produces an entirely different result.

As light travels through the atmosphere, hitting those molecules along the way, more and more of the shorter wavelengths are scattered. By the time the light reaches your eye, all the blue and violet has been scattered out, leaving only the longer wavelengths in the sky for you to see. That’s why a setting sun turns the sky red, orange, yellow and all shades in between. All of that scattered blue and violet is busy creating a blue daytime sky somewhere else in a different time zone.

How do we perceive a space, a moment? What do we catalog in our memory – are they images, shooting in a direct line from past to present or millions of fragments, reconstructed differently each time?  For this assignment you will need to visit a place from which you can view the sunset. This can be a hilltop, beach, roof – any elevated clearing where you will have a clear shot of the horizon. From this space you will need a collect 2 objects : 1 photograph and 1 object – this can be a stone, an empty bag of chips, flower clippings, a broken brick.

These 2 artifacts will be the bases of a series of color palettes representing your memory of this location. Use your tint and shade swatches from Exercise 1 to help you identify hues and create the following palettes on 1 inch x 1.5 inch swatches :

Photograph :  Monochromatic (4 colors), Triad (3 colors), Complimentary (2 colors)

Object : Analogous (5 colors)

On a blank sheet of watercolor paper, lay out each individual swatch in the landscape by memory. Do not reference the original image. In the absence of context the proximity and pairings of certain colors becomes paramount in order to convey the mood of the original sunset. How can new relationships be created in the placement and displacement of these colors? Once you have a composition you are happy with, secure each swatch with light tape and pin to the wall in the classroom. The original image will then be projected over to create an abstract collage – a story of light moving through atmosphere, into pigment and back into light. Does your memory line up?