Research: optical effects used by artists

I started by looking at the work of impressionist artist George Seurat, 1859 -1891. Seurat painted his landmark piece, ‘A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte’, when he was 25 years old.  (image source:–1886.html)sunday-afternoon-on-the-island-of-la-grande-jatte-1886

Looking closely at this well balanced, if rather busy painting, I can see that he has painted it using tiny spots of colour. The whole picture has a wonderful light and contrasting shadows.  ‘Dedicated to the pursuit of order in painting, Seurat developed his own colour theory known as Divisionism. This involved applying a multitude of tiny dots of pure colour directly onto the canvas, to be mixed by the eye rather than on the canvas.’ source: The A-Z of art, Carlton books.  Divisionism later became known as Pointillism. I think this method of painting must be very time consuming, but the effects are beautiful, with the gradual blending of the dots of colour to form the shadows and areas of sunlight. The whole painting has a hazy glow to it. It enabled him to use pure colour without actaully mixing, leaving the eye to do so. Overall, however, I think I prefer his later work, ‘The Eiffel Tower 1889’ has a much more exaggerated effect, rather than small dots he has used small, directional  stokes which I think adds more energy and dynamism to the work.


Paul Signac, 1863 -1935, was Seurat’s supporter and friend. ‘…began work in the Impressionist manner and was a founding member of the “Independent Painters” with Seurat; both men contributed to the Salon. Signac soon adopts the Divisionist style of painting, becoming its most ardent publicist. He is also the most articulate member of the group, publishing the book, From Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism. Today, the book is regarded perhaps more as a manifesto in defense of the movement than an entirely accurate description of the Divisionist methods. Signac advocates the banishing of “muddy mixtures” (usually the result of pre-mixing colors) in favor of the luminous intense colors blended by the viewer’s eye.’ source:


By Paul Signac – unknown (museum website?), Public Domain,

I think this is lovely and works well, as the dots of colour are like the grass and the shadows blend in beautifully and realistically. I think this pointillist style works well with nature, for leaves and grass…also when you look at the sky you often see points of light in your eye and I have often seen the sky look like a pointillist painting! 🙂


(image source:  I think this method of painting gives a subtle shifting of the colour and I also feel the white gaps between the spots give the feeling of light that works so well in these paintings.

Bridget Riley and Op art

“I couldn’t get near what I wanted through seeing, recognizing and recreating, so I stood the problem on its head. I started studying squares, rectangles, triangles and the sensations they give rise to… It is untrue that my work depends on any literary impulse or has any illustrative intention. The marks on the canvas are sole and essential agents in a series of relationships which form the structure of the painting.” (Bridget Riley) source: movement-in-squares

Riley’s graphic works trick the eye and create movement and rippling waves. She achieved these effects by careful paint application, however I believe this can be reproduced more easily by computer graphics these days. I feel these could be a bit headache-inducing if studied for too long…

Riley was also inspired by the colours she saw used in ancient Egyptian art, and used these in a series of striped works.The group of colours work well together and seem to shimmer to the eye.  source:


I watched this video on YouTube, it’s old but very interesting:

One hot summer in the South of France, she remembers climbing a hillside of broken shale. The light was so strong, that it dazzled. It seemed to come from all directions. She lost her sense of focus, and everything seemed to disintegrate into light , she thought it was like standing in a field of pure energy. This was where her inspiration started.

She mixes colour and records all the trials and then works on small scales to see what works best with the aid of , possibly? her family.  Riley studied the work of Seurat and it became a guide to her own work, combined with the Italian artist Balla, founder of the futurist movement, who experimented with the optical sensation of movement. (I had a quick look at his work also – I LOVE this one ‘Street Light’,1903,  I think he has really captured how the energy of light and how it can appear) source:

But back to Riley, she said repetition acts as an amplifier giving movement and energy – making it live. By confusing the eye we sense the energy. With our binocular vision each eye sees a slightly different view. In that focusing you experience a sense of space.  She builds a kind of web of colours.

‘What a pleasure, a gift, sight is to us.’ Bridget Riley



Author: Wendy Kate

Happily sharing my life in Spain with a tall bearded man from Dorset.

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