Shimmering Luminosity

As neurobiologist, Margaret Livingston observed Claude Monet built his wondrously luminous paintings from the principle of equiluminance. In his early and famous “Impression Sunrise” painting (example 1) we see the blue grays are the same value or brightness as the red sun. In a black and white photo of the painting the sun disappears.  But because the colors are complementary (opposites) with equal values the image appears to radiate a soft glow.

Example 1. Claude Monet’s early demonstration of equiluminance,

19th century scientists from Michel Chevreul (Principles of Color Harmony and Contrast) to Ogden Rood (Modern Chromatics) measure and test to develop  principles for making colors to appear luminous. The German Bauhaus school under the tutelage of Johannes Itten describes color arrangements for luminous color effects. Faber Birren in his Principles of Color offers the handiest book for explaining and implementing successive and simultaneous contrast effects.  Light color with blurred edges juxtaposed against complementary colors of equal or similar light value will generate a condition of glowing luminosity.

You can see the contemporary abstract painter Gerhard Richter employing these effects here in example 2.  Or look at the array of vibrating color complements in Wayne Thiebaud’s landscape in example 3.  And, consider the vibrating shimmering color effects in the wavelets of Gustav Klimt in this detail from one of his landscapes (example 4).

Example 2.  Gerhard Richter’s painting demonstrating a slippery shimmering set of effects using complementary color harmony with blurred edges.

Example 3 of Wayne Thiebaud’s painting which demonstrates simultaneous contrast effects with soft glowing edges surrounding a lake with blurred complementary light colors for a shimmer effect.

Example 4.  A detail from a painting by Gustav Klimt,

With these principles and artistic examples in mind I created two cityscapes.  In my first example (example 5) I use an assortment of soft complementary pastel colors in this 36×36”oil on Dibond. This example is still early in its process but, it demonstrates  glowing luminosity of light colors paired with their complements.

Example 5.  First stage of “Luminous City Rain” oil on Dibond, 36×36”,

In my final example (example 6 and 7) you see a sampling of the development of this cityscape in the rain. The subject of rain or wet streets provides a narrative opportunity for glistening effects. Glisten effects rely on broken light areas crossing darker areas as well as the use of simultaneous contrast effects.

Example 6.  Here is an earlier stage in “The Rain on the Plaza”, oil on brushed silver Dibond 24×36”,

Example 7. Here is the present state of “Rain on The Plaza”. Note the crosshatching of lighter colors over a deeper base to generate a glistening effect.


7 Responses

  1. Elaine Price Schwartz

    So joyful & full of sparkle. Just like being in your class! Thank you David.

  2. Sandy Goddard

    Fascinating blog post, David! Thank you for the excellent examples, especially 6 & 7. The difference is remarkable! I’ve ordered Faber Birren’s book, Creative Color, which has specific experiments for painters. I’m eager to try combining the colors and layers as you’ve demonstrated above. Love all your posts and appreciate the time that it requires to do each one.

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