Category Archives: Vision and Optics

Inga Moore

Inga Moore, illustrator Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden
British illustrator Inga Moore moved with her family to Australia when she was eight, but a fondness for the English countryside never left her, as she grew up reading books with British illustrators. When she returned to England as an adult, and after a time working in various positions in London, she moved out to the English countryside once again to pursue her illustration career in more suitable surroundings.

As a result of that love of the land, and a long time admiration for great landscape painters as well as Golden Age illustrators, Moore produced a unique and beautiful style, richly detailed and textural in the midst of trends toward minimal children’s book illustration, and brought it to bear illustrating her own titles, like Six-Dinner Sid, and new versions of classics like The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden, among others.

Moore works in a multi-media approach, using pencil, ink, watercolor, colored pencil and occasionally oil (bringing to mind the multi-layered charcoal and watercolor techniques of Golden Age American illustrator Elizabeth Shippen Green).

Moore is somewhat reclusive, and as far as I can tell, does not have an official web presence, so I’ll point you to places where others have posted her work.


Carel Fabritius

Carel Fabritius
Carel Fabritius was a Dutch painter whose adopted name comes from the latin for carpenter, or if more broadly used, craftsman.

Fabritius studied in the the studio of Rembrandt, and is generally considered to be Rembrandt’s most talented pupil, and the only one to really break free of the master’s influence and develop his own style. This is notable in particular in the contrast of his color and texture filled portrait backgrounds with Rembrandt’s deep pools of darkness. His use of cool color harmonies is also distinctly different from the color choices of his master.

On leaving Rembrandt’s studio, he established himself for a time as an independent artist in his hometown of Beemster, and then moved to Delft, and is generally thought of as a Delft painter.

Fabritius was one of the most influential Dutch painters of his time, despite the fact that his career, and life, were tragically cut short in the “Delft Thunderclap“, an event in 1654 in which the Delft armory, and its large store of gunpowder, exploded, devastating a large part of the town.

It is presumed that much of Fabritius’ work was also lost in the explosion, as only about 12-15 of his paintings (depending on questions of attribution) are known to remain. Among those, however, is considerable variety, and Fabritius is also credited as one of starting points of trompe l’oeil painting.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Goldfinch (images above, top two; zoomable version here) in a Vermeer show in New York some years ago that included work by some of Vermeer’s contemporaries. It was the only non-Vermeer painting in the show to which I repeatedly returned. From a few feet away it is effectively trompe l’oeil illusionistic, close up, it’s a marvel of painterly loaded-brush painting.

Fabritius is generally acknowledged to have been an influence on Vermeer as well as De Hooch, who were also working in Delft at that time; though he was likely not, as you will sometimes see suggested, Vermeer’s teacher.

Like Vermeer, Fabritius is presumed to have made use of the camera obscura, and was fascinated with optical effects and linear perspective. Only one of his perspective experiments survives, but it’s a fascinating painting,

View of Delft (images above, bottom three; larger version here) has a fascinating curved perspective and oddly positioned and cut-off rendering of the violin in the left foreground. Taking clues from similar works by other artists, it was probably meant to be displayed on a curved surface inside a “peep-box“. These, viewed through a peephole, provide only one fixed-point view of the painting, giving the artist more control over what the viewer sees, and would have provided a realistic illusion of space and sense of place that must have been mesmerizing.

The painting, along with one of Fabritius’s presumed self-portraits, is in the collection of the National Gallery , London, which provides a wonderful full-screen and zoomable high resolution view of the painting (use controls at right of the image).


Did Van Gogh have protanomal color deficiency?

Did Van Gogh have protanomal color deficiency? From an article by Kazunori Asada
About 8 percent of male human beings, and a much smaller 0.5 percent of females, have some form of color vision deficiency, commonly called “color blindness”, in which the perception of colors is limited or altered in some way compared to the general population.

It has been suggested at times that Vincent van Gogh’s unusual use of some colors, particularly yellows and greens, was related to a visual problem, perhaps brought on by lead poisoning from paint, or treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy with a drug known as digitalis, both of which can cause visual alterations.

Kazunori Asada, who has degrees in both medical science and media design and is the developer of the Chromatic Vision Simulator software that allows those with normal color vision to explore various kinds of color vision deficiencies, has written an article on his blog entitled The Day I Saw Van Gogh’s Genius in a New Light, that explores the possibility that Van Gogh may have had a particular type of mildly limited color vision called protanomal color vision.

Asada was inspired to explore this possibility by a visit to the “Color Vision Experience Room” at and event at the Hokkaido Color Universal Design Organization. In the exhibit, objects on display under filtered light designed to simulate color deficiencies included reproductions of some of Van Gogh’s paintings.

He then attempted to use his software to examine some similar reproductions and was unsatisfied with the result, but after some adjustment, he arrived at a new version in which a more limited degree of color deficiency was possible to simulate.

In images accompanying his article, which I have referenced above, he first shows some of Van Gogh’s paintings as they normally appear (above, top and left) side by side with a simulation of their appearance to someone with protanomal color vision.

He emphasizes that Van Gogh may or may not have had these limitations, but the theory is an interesting one, and Asada says that it reinvigorated his already deep appreciation for Van Gogh’s work.

[Via MetaFilter]


Wikipedia Color Resources

Wikipedia Color Resources
There are lots of color resources on the web, for artists, designers and others, but an often overlooked one is Wikipedia, the venerable user-edited online encyclopedia.

Whatever you may say about the reliability of the information on Wikipedia (or from Britannica, or any other single resource, for that matter), I rarely consider a source like Wikipedia a place to end a search, but, like Google, a place to begin one.

Though not specifically an artist’s resource, Wikipedia’s color related articles are numerous and varied.

You might find it interesting to start with their “List of Colors“. The list includes a lot of non-artist colors, like “British Racing Green” and “Psychedelic Purple”, but the familiar artist pigments are there too. Links for those lead to articles with information about the pigment, including source materials, history, chemical composition, lightfastness, typical use, hazardous qualities, color system numbers and sometimes more.

Some are grouped; Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red all lead to a single entry for “Cadmium pigments“, but some have more extensive and interesting listings, like the history behind Ultramarine.

There are articles about Color Theory, Color Vision, the Color Wheel, Complimentary Color, Primary Color, Hue, Saturation and many other related topics.

Though hardly an exhaustive resource on color for artists, it does seem a valuable resource to add to your virtual palette.


Color Vision & Art

Michelangelo's Doni Holy Family, Monet's Impression: Sunrise, on WebExhibits
Color Vision & Art is an online feature on WebExhibits, which describes itself as an “interactive museum of science, humanities and culture”.

The feature is a series of related articles, accompanied by images and simple Flash interactives, that explore the relationship of human color perception to the uses of color in art. The feature is more extensive than it appears first, each section divided into secondary and sometimes tertiary levels of topics.

The articles move from basic information about light, color and vision, through color theory and the color wheel (additionally, see my post on History of the Color Wheel), paints and pigments (for which there is a dedicated feature on WebExhibits, Pigments Through the Ages) into color interactions and peripheral vision. The latter has some interesting essays on the use of detail and blurring in paintings at various points in art history.

I found the section on Color Interactions Simultaneous Contrast a little spare, as I feel this is at the core of understanding and using color, and could have benefitted from additional interactions and demonstrations, (particularly demonstrations such as the striking examples of simultaneous contrast shown by modern color perception demonstrations like the ones I wrote about here and here).

However, I found particular interest in the section on Luminance and equiluminance, or value contrasts and value similarities. This is illustrated particularly well in simple interactives that use sliders to remove the color and show the strong value relationships in Michelangelo’s Doni Holy Family and the very different ones in Monet’s Impression: Sunrise. The latter is the painting from which the term “Impressionism”, originally a bit of derisive mockery by critics, came into use.

The interactives allow you to gradually remove the color from both paintings, viewing the difference in their color contrasts and value contrasts. (The images above are just screen captures and are not interactive.)

Most fascinating is the combination of deliberate lack of value contrast and simultaneous strong color contrast in the key parts of Monet’s painting, also demonstrated in his Poppies, near Argenteuil, producing a conflict in the perception of the contrast within the brain that makes the area seem to vibrate.

Overall, the features are, if you will excuse the expression, illuminating, and well worth both casual perusal and more dedicated reading if you have the time.

Other features in WebExhibits of particular interest to Lines and Colors readers include Causes of Color, Pigments Through the Ages, Bellini’s “Feast of the Gods” and Van Gogh’s Letters.


Reverse Perspective Animation

Reverse Perspective Animation, Jeremy Mooney-Somers
Linear perspective is an attempt to codify the way that we perceive the relationships between the size of objects, and the shapes of objects, based on their relationship to us in three dimensional space and convey that perception on a two dimensional surface.

The most important rules of linear perspective are that objects appear smaller in the distance, and parallel lines converge on a hypothetical distant vanishing point.

In true reverse (or inverse) perspective, these rules are reversed, in that objects are larger in the distance and parallel lines converge in the direction of the observer’s position.

Reverse perspective is sometimes called Byzantine perspective because of its use in icon paintings, in which objects like thrones or platforms are depicted as wider on the portion farther from the observer. The notions that have been applied for explanation are that the important point of view is that of God, not of the human observer. Whether this is the actual intent is unknown, but it’s worth remembering that the invention of linear perspective postdates the Byzantine, so they could not have been using the reverse of codified rules they presumably didn’t have.

For those of us who have been exposed to linear perspective in images for all of our lives, the idea of reverse perspective is hard to visualize, but Jeremy Mooney-Somers has used 3-D graphics software (a modified version of Art of Illusion) to make an animated visualization of True Reverse Perspective.

I have to emphasize that the images above do not convey the idea. You must see the animated version to get the effect.

(It’s interesting to contrast this with with the Reverspective of Patrick Hughes; though not actually true reverse perspective, it’s an interesting variation on the way we perceive three dimensional relationships.)

[Via BoingBoing]