Process Insight: ENERGY through NEON colours

Back in 2019, I embarked on the process of producing my Still-Life Triptych project—one of my favourite paintings of all I have created so far. The project challenged my fine-art abilities in several ways such as working with unconventional canvas shapes and depicting 3-dimensional geometric forms. However, the one aspect I enjoyed most was using a neon colour scheme inspired by the portrait artworks of French artist, Francoise Nielly.

I wanted to juxtapose the idea of a still-life painting by incorporating energy into the composition without depicting moving objects. Analysing Francoise Nielly’s style showed me how colour can be used to incorporate energy into a painting. Below is an extract from my sketchbook that analyses Nielly's Marilyn E painting from 2014:

To enhance my analysis, I produced my own copy of Marilyn E.

My main intention with copying Nielly's Marilyn E is to explore the use of an unnatural colour scheme to create form. I observed from the original painting that Nielly uses colours of darker hue and intensity such as dark purple, dark blue, and magenta to create shadows. Colours of brighter intensity and hue such as yellow were used as mid-tones, whereas the use of pastel colours were used for highlights. I attempted to imitate this with my acrylic copy and I feel I was successful at giving the face form. However, my painting would be more convincing had I just placed the colours in slightly different positions. The dark hues to form the cheek bone create too small a curve making it look sharper than the original. Also, my copy is missing a few more pastel hues on the forehead, which would have made it look more round.

In addition, instead of using oil paint and a palette knife, I used acrylic and paint brushes. While the acrylic paint was able to achieve the same brightness as the oil paints, the use of paint brushes affected the sense of energy conveyed in my copy as opposed to Nielly's. My paintbrush created colour blocks with softer edges as opposed to the more crisp edges achieved by Nielly's palette knife. This makes my painting look less harsh giving the skin a softer implied texture than Nielly's.

Check out the time-lapse below:

I then experimented using Nielly’s technique of using colours of varying hues and intensities to create form (without using black or white paint) to render one of the decorative birds I used in my final painting.

My intention with this experiment was to use the brighter colours (yellow and green) as the highlight colours and to use the darker colours of magenta and purple for the shadows. While the resulting style of this experiment is similar to that of Nielly such that all of the different colours are not blended seamlessly together, I decided it would be better to paint in a more hyper-realistic style for the final painting. Again, this is for the sake of visual coherence with the rest of my artworks in my Abstraction into Geometric Forms exhibition, almost all of which are dominated by solid colours and polished textures. Making this painting more hyper-realistic means the texture of the subject matter would look more smooth as a result of the seamless blending of the colours used. This will be achieved by making sure brush strokes are not visible as much as possible.

In the end, I was pleased with the resulting effect of the neon colour scheme paired with the angular geometric shapes of the canvas. It gave an otherwise inanimate scene a sense of spontaneous energy, as if it captures an instant in time right before the objects are to jump into life.

What do you think about the way colour schemes affect mood and atmosphere of a painting? Feel free to share your thoughts below, I would love to hear them.

Until next time,

Zoe Q

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