Part 2

Project: Colour relationships

Research Point 3

Artists that use Optical Effects:

1. Georges Seurat (1859-91). Bathers at Asnieres, exhibited at Salon des independants in 1884, is generally attributed to be the first example of Pointillism. Instead of choosing the desired colour of paint, mixing on a palette and applying it in varying brushstrokes, this was a new technique of applying many tiny points of pure colours side by side which when viewed from a distance were blended by the eye becoming more vibrant. It was at this exhibition that he first met his friend Paul Signac who helped further develop this technique.

Detail of the orange hat clearly shows it to be made up of dots of many tones of orange, from yellow through to red, and the shaded part at the back of the hat has blue dots added to deepen the tone (blue and orange are complementary). Detail of the boat in the background shows the water to be a mix of blue, yellow and green, plus lots of white where the light reflects on the surface and red where there’s darker reflections. Note the inclusion of the French flag – he was a patriotic Frenchman.

The painting largely consists of areas viewed as blue, green or white. The complementary colour of blue/green would be a red/orange which is the colour used for the hat, shorts, towel and dog. This has the effect of bringing these parts to life, the eye darts around over the contrast giving energy to an otherwise still scene.

The grass is made up from dots of various tones of green plus yellow and orange in the bright sunlit areas, and blue and pink on the shaded areas.

Seurat uses much the same colours as in Bathers with the orange/red used to give energy and life to the very sedate figures.

The painting is also full of symbolism: the French flag is again flying from the boat in the distant centre; there is a monkey at the feet of the woman in the foreground and the french slang for monkey also means prostitute so perhaps the lady is a prostitute with her client; the lady sitting in mid ground to the left wears an orange head scarf which indicates that she is a wet nurse though no child can be seen.

2. Vincent Van Gogh

Uses complementary colours to encourage the eye to move around the composition. The windows in the background buildings glow with a vibrant orange against the deep blue of the night sky. Again, against that blue sky, the orange glow of the lights that illuminate the whole cafe make it the focus of the painting even though it is in mid ground. The cool blue colour recedes into the background while the warm orange comes forward. And the cobbles in the foreground which appear normal until you realise that the dark blue semi circles are where the lighter tones should be as the light falls on the bumps – our eyes just accept this error.

3. Bridget Riley

Very much influenced by the pointillism of Seurat, Bridget Riley initially painted landscapes of dots before becoming more abstract. She explored making movement from static paintings, and as can be seen above in Movement in Squares achieves this! The line where the decreasing squares meet really vibrates and actually hurts the eyes.

In later years she added colour rather than sticking to black and white. To a Summer’s Day reminds us of a calm summer sea – the lines narrow and broaden so that our eyes see rolling waves. It is very hard to actually work out the individual colours used because of this movement but I think it’s orange, ochre, purple and blue – again complementary colours.


It’s about time that I made sure that I’m referencing my research correctly so I have signed up for Paperpile and watched all the ‘how to get started’ videos… fingers crossed this works easily:

Kindersley, D. (2017) Artist’s Drawing Techniques. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Krausse, A.-C. (2013) The Story of Painting: From the Renaissance to the Present. Germany: h.f.ullmann.

Pub, D. (2018) Great Paintings. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited. (p172-5 Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte)(p242-3 Bridget Riley, To a summer’s day)

Thomas, D. (1987) The age of the Impressionists. London: Hamlyn for Marks and Spencer plc. (Chpt 19 = Seurat and Signac, chpt 15 = Van Gogh)

Zaczek, I. (2013) The Illustrated Story of Art. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Kemp, W. (2011) The 3 Tricks of Complementary Colours you can Learn from Van Gogh | will kemp art school. At: (Accessed on 22 October 2019)

Scottish National Gallery RSA: Bridget Riley (2019) At: (Accessed on 22 October 2019)

Exercise: Colour Accuracy

This exercise was essentially about recreating colours. As the colours of my composition are vibrant and complimentary, there is a lot of life and energy to it. I chose to use a palette knife instead of brushes to help recreate this energy too.

Ground = yellow ochre

Support = Canson mixed media 200gsm, smooth


The luminous orange of the pepper was particularly hard and I fiddled around with this for ages changing the tone from reddish to orange and back. Photo 3 has a pepper with a range of tones but they are too red. Trying to lighten the tone with white just flattened the colour. I now remember fellow student Sue explaining about the difference between Titanium White acrylic and Mixing White acrylic – at the time this was just one of many points I was trying to absorb but now I’m thinking that this could be where I’m going wrong so I’ve spent some time googling the differences. I’m using Titanium White – strong opaque pigment, great for coverage. Mixing White has less pigment and is semi transparent so I’m hoping it should mix with the orange/red to lighten the tone without making it flat and opaque. Ordered a tube and will update this with result….

The apple I eventually got to be OK. Bananas are a little too vibrant and need to come down a tone or two. Green pepper and background are correct. Bottle should be more transparent and lighter tone. Blue pot has correct range of tones but they are again too dark. Shelf shadows and flower stems good. Flower colours were easy and almost spot on (not much adjustment needed from tube colours) though I’ve painted too much of the dark orange relative to the light.

Update on adding white…

Cad Orange + Deep yellow + mixing white = good match

T=with titanium white added M=with Mixing white added

As I thought, the difference is that T is opaque with good coverage, and M is transparent and can be used as a wash. The comparisons show a clear difference, especially on the blue scale tested on both grey and ochre grounds. Glad this cropped up – certainly both types have their uses and the mixing white gives a better ‘orange pepper colour’.

Exercise: Still Life with colour used to evoke mood

Same composition as above. This time I’m going for muted tones to give a cold, dull and lifeless feel. Instead of vibrant oranges and blues, I’ll use more blue grey tones and pastel creams. I’m also going to use a brush rather than palette knife this time – the palette knife give a sense of energy, movement and life with its rough strokes and I think the mood would be created better with smooth textureless strokes. Practiced some colours and tones in sketchbook.

Ground = mid grey

Support = Canson mixed media 200gsm, smooth

Started with deliberately dull tones of grey to place objects and gradually added colour. This time adding titanium white wasn’t a problem as I wanted it deadened. Also used paynes grey to darken tones.

This took much less time but I struggled toning down the flowers to more pastel creams and oranges. The real flowers were starting to droop by now which further confused me especially with the top flower. I don’t think I’ve achieved any resemblance to the real flowers here. Getting a darker tone around the edge of each petal seemed especially hard for some reason.

The apple, though too large and about to roll out of the pot, has a good range of dulled down tones. The bananas, very over ripe by now, should have been a little more brown in colour rather than straight dark grey.

The blackground and blue pot work well together this time as I used the same paint just changing tones.

Seen side by side the first certainly has more life and energy, and the second is dull and boring. Perhaps I could have emphasises this more by making it less sharp and focussed – a bit of a misty effect?

Also, given the feedback from Part 1 that I have just received from my tutor, I think both of these would benefit from more contrast between the light and dark tones – this may help them come to life a bit more…

Very interesting and useful exercises. Focussed my attention on the differences between transparent and opaque layers again and especially on how adding titanium white dulls the colour down as well as lightening the tone.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s