Beauty: Exploring Creating Luminance

By Morag Muir

By Morag Muir

One of the four aims I have for my art, as set out in my mini manifesto, is to create beauty. I think art doesn't need to be beautiful, but it's important to me.

Three aspects of beauty which appeal especially to me are:

  • luminance,
  • high contrast, such as silhouettes or stained glass,
  • pattern.

This gorgeous quilt-like painting from Scottish artist Morag Muir exemplifies all three, which is probably why I like it so much!

This post is about some work I've started, exploring creating luminance.

Orchid Before the Window, Watercolour and Coloured Pencil

Orchid Before the Window, Watercolour and Coloured Pencil

I was very happy with the effect that I achieved on one of my orchid studies by overlaying coloured pencil on watercolour. I used patches of colour, including complementary tones which average around the main tone, like the Impressionists. It added colour without gaudiness and without reducing the brightness of the picture, as another layer of watercolour would have done.

The coloured pencils I used were Berol Karismacolor which are rich in colour, semi-transparent and have a waxy sheen. Sadly, these pencils are not manufactured anymore; and even this fairly small picture took quite a few hours cover, so I'm looking for other techniques to create a similar effect. 

A few weeks ago I spent a few happy couple of hours in the National Gallery, including rooms 45 and 46 where the paintings from the 1800s/1900s are hung. The artists exhibited here hadn't given up on creating beauty yet.

Gustav Klimt's  Portrait of Hermine Gallia,  1904

Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904

For example Klimt's painting Portrait of Hermine Gallia, is gorgeous with colour and pattern. The background is overlaid with stripes of blue, orange, purple and green. It creates a haze which pushes the background back, and stops it from competing with the mainly white dress of the figure, whilst being anything but flat. It's a bit like the dancing sparks of colours you see with your eyes closed, or in front of all you see if you pay attention to it, though the pattern is much bigger. 

Detail from  Portrait of Hermine Gallia

Detail from Portrait of Hermine Gallia

Last week, to lift my mood after the EU referendum result, I had a day of fun playing with colour to try to create luminance. 

I planned to use complementary colours next to each other, but found that I really liked putting similar tones on top of one another, for the intensity of colour it created. It is a very different effect from the pastel shimmering light I was thinking of when I started. I found it difficult to keep the colours as clean as I wanted using complementary colours, working wet in wet. They started to merge and muddy. I also found I had to mix the colours on the palette, rather than trying to merge those next to each other to a third in between. 

Playing with oil paint in vertical patches/stripes.

Playing with oil paint in vertical patches/stripes.

I think this photograph looks better than the painting, because the mind assumes that it is bigger than it really is. In reality the brush stripes look busy, I've used too small a brush. I ended up using my small brushes to keep one for each colour tone, to save having to keep washing them.

Once this is dry I will put a glaze over the top, to see what impact that has. I haven't decided what sort, maybe a uniform tone, or complementary to what is beneath.

I will also try this experiment again, this time being more disciplined about using complementary colours, and using larger brushes.