Nature’s Fluctuating Colour Captured on Canvas?

Nature’s Fluctuating Colour Captured on Canvas?

F. Schenk 

Birmingham City University, England

30 September 2009
| Citation



For centuries artists and natural scientists have been captivated by the colour changing effects of iridescence. Producing brilliant flashes of colour in the natural world, the phenomenon is best known in the displays of ‘living jewels’, e.g. tropical birds and butterflies, where the colour perceived changes with viewing angle. Such striking effects are not produced by chemical pigments but by complex physical structures interplaying with light. Until now, artists have tried to capture these luminous, oscillating colours with varying degrees of success. However, for the first time, latest advances in ‘pigment’ technology offer artists the exciting, but challenging, potential to introduce the full spectacle of iridescence into painting. These ‘pigments’ (developed with lucrative industrial applications in mind) currently remain restricted to commercial usage. The major drawback seriously impeding their advancement in art is that they do not adhere to colour theory as applied in painting. Having worked on adapting iridescent technology from its inception, gradual emergence and now rapid expansion, the author traces the sustained effort necessary on her part to overcome the many inherent challenges. Interweaving the findings of art theory, physics and personal studio practice, an attempt is made to position the new technology within the wider discourse on colour. And readers are furnished with an increased understanding of the scientific and aesthetic principles governing iridescence.


colour theory, interference fl akes, iridescence, optical physics, painting


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