October 2011

Mesopic

We see the world with two kinds of vision.

By day, vision is “photopic.”  We see in color, using a trio of cone cells sensitive to blue, green, and yellow light.   At night vision is “scotopic.”  We see with a single cell type— called rods— in shades of gray.

Between these two is the “mesopic” range.  Dusk and dawn, rain and fog.  Vision is a mix of rods and cones, and they interact in all sorts of weird and nonlinear ways.  Colors are duller but can seem more vivid.  This is the light I like best as a painter.

One thing that happens as the light gets dimmer is that we become more sensitive to blue versus yellow light.  This is called the “Purkinje shift” and was described in 1825.  There is a beautiful blue-gray color that appears in the distant trees around sunrise that I always try to capture on my camera.  And then I am disappointed when it shows up as an uninspiring dull green.  One foggy morning I tried to catch it with paint, and I think I was a little more successful (although the painting is still not as luminous as the actual trees).  When I did the painting I had no idea why the color was there.

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Loose

I’m been feeling kind of burnt out recently.

Creatively, scientifically.  I’m not quite sure why.  Part of me feels that I have been doing the same things over and over again for many years.  Or maybe it’s just that having a kid didn’t magically transform me into the model of efficiency and productivity that I’d sort of hoped it would.

When we took a longer vacation up to Vermont recently I debated bringing sewing stuff, or trying to make some progress on analysis.  But in the end I decided to just bring paints.  I think it was a good decision.

In drawing “loose” is considered a virtue.  Unlike sewing, and science, where precision and replicability are prized, a drawing is valued for its spontaneity, its expressiveness, its ability to capture a particular moment.  That’s the reason we warm up with quick sketches at the beginning of a class.  With limited time, you can’t stress too much about getting a line “exactly right.”  You can’t over-fixate on details.  So maybe there’s something from drawing that applies to my other subjects as well.  The looser your hand, the truer your vision.  That’s the hope anyway.

This sketch of the road just up from our house is far looser than my normal style.  Does it work as a painting?  Meh.  But I do think it captures a little bit of the glorious indian summer we had the first weekend.

Also it was fun to do.

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