Monday, November 16, 2009
Getting a Glow On
"Fishing", Oil on gallery wrap canvas , 30" x 30"
What the heck is "glow"?
Some paintings have it and some just don't. Glow is an amazing quality that many painters completely ignore or don't even know about. It's a vibration in the painting which is revealed with the change in lighting conditions and gives up more colour and depth the more you look at it. It's what makes some paintings magical.
One of the most magical painters that I know of has mastered this glow: HE Kuckein. A real painters' painter, Kuckhein's works are deceptively simple in subject and composition and don't photograph as particularly special paintings and yet, when you see them in life, you can't stop looking. He's represented throughout Canada but whenever I'm in the Okanagan, I make sure to go to Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna and check out his pieces. The obliging manager has turned the lights off over his paintings to show me how the colours shift and shimmer with the change. There is so much more to his work than just the surface layer.
The folks at Tutt say that he wipes off semi-dry paint and applies new paint onto the roughened, partially-there pigment. That way there are little holes in the colour which show through almost imperceptibly but react to different lighting conditions throughout the day. This is called “broken colour”.
Another method to get broken colour is by adding rather than subtracting marks. Instead of applying strokes of paint in a dense fashion with full coverage of what's underneath, you can use lighter, airy strokes that leave little gaps along the brushstroke. In this way, the underpainting shows through along the open streaks - no matter how subtle and fine - of the subsequent brushstroke.
You can also achieve broken colour by laying a stroke of colour next to another colour and not mingling them. The Impressionists used this technique to wonderful effect.
Still another means to achieve glow is by glazing one colour over another. Fine, transparent layers patiently applied over dry paint, give a superb luminosity. I'm not that patient.
Whatever technique you choose to get the glow, it's always caused by colour choice. Usually a temperature change or a contrasting colour are selected to achieve glow. If you're trying to show the effect of sunlight on a model's hair, instead of just adding white to the hair colour for the highlights, make the colour both lighter and cooler. In the above painting, "Fishing", I showed the light-struck area on the boy's hair by adding successively-lighter variations of green and yellow-toned highlights which contrast in temperature and somewhat in colour with the warmer blues and lavenders in the shaded parts.
Glow is a painting tool that's often overlooked. Painters get caught up in representing what they see but forget that we can do so much more than that. We can use use this tool to make the viewer feel the magic of what we’ve seen.