Art (of Light) in the Landscape

Art In the Landscape: Series Part V
By Mary & Hugh Williamson

The Broad Brush of the Sunlandscape-art-390x215
The Fine Brush of Artificial Light

The beautiful Sunshine State is blessed with the vital resource that the name implies. The sun is among the most powerful forces in nature and in the landscape, and it is indiscriminate. We can do little to control it using awnings, shade trees and lanais. Sunlight can be harsh, or it can be sparkling. We are drawn to it, and sometimes retreat from it. Sunlight is the greatest creator and shaper of art in the landscape. Sunlight and its constant companion, shadow, determine how we see everything in the outdoor environment. Sunlight changes its intensity and angle of approach every single day of the year. Zen gardeners were masters of using light and shadow to reflect the movement of the sun and the moon on objects. The whole concept of Yin and Yang, prominent in Oriental culture, is reflected in the symbol which shows the sunlit side of the mountain and the shadowed side of the mountain. This push-pull relationship is at the heart of many philosophies, including this one. So then, let’s consider the incredible power of light as Art in the Landscape. Sunlight is a design element painted with a very large brush. Shadows and their interplay with light can be dramatic, subtle or in the wide range between. All of this can be incorporated into landscape design by those skilled in the nuances. To truly understand the concept of light and shadow, one only has to view the magnificent series of paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926). His studies of the effects of changing light on the façade of the Rouen Cathedral are some of the most compelling examples of light’s drama.

As Natural Light Fades

As natural sunlight wanes, the manmade version can take over, providing for security, wayfinding, beauty and glamour. Think beyond the usual highly functional applications of artificial light, such as your pool, the approaches to your home: pathways, driveways. Artificial light is much more manageable than the “real thing,” and allows for great drama and creativity. Your landscape includes buildings, hardscapes, land art such as topiaries, and more traditional plant material. The sun cannot be commanded to highlight just one valued sculptural feature of your landscape. However, artificial light, in the dark or the semi-darkness paints its presence with a very fine brush. It is used to articulate and accent. It will always be sculptural and will use the darkness and the shadows to show contrast. This can be accomplished on a balcony, a penthouse garden or a broad estate. The possibilities are endless, and if you have an interest and fascination, you can easily experiment with a few movable
light fixtures identified with UL wet location designations. Change angles, change intensity, change your intent with the seasons. Flood a favorite sculpture, or a
gloriously shaped tree. Palm trees are wonderfully lighted from above during the day, and can be romantically lighted from the ground at night. Different angles cause dramatic variations of effect. It is remarkably easy to change your “canvas”. Maybe a fountain with its spray cooling the air can be a glowing evening focal point for your Florida outdoor lifestyle. Perhaps bringing light to the far reaches of your property will define the perimeters. Experiment and have fun. Your landscape architect or a member of the International Landscape Lighting Institute can make your vision real.

Hugh Williamson is a graduate of landscape architecture programs at Syracuse University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science. Mary is a gardener and interior designer by training at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, and Harrington Institute of Interior Design. Their Bluffton, SC wildlife habitat uses light as sculpture throughout.

Art (of Light) in the Landscape