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Impact case study

Seeing the Light - The Science of Colour in Art

Unit(s) of assessment: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

Research theme: Global Heritage

School: School of Science and Technology

Research background

This exhibition was the result of an art and science collaboration involving two Bristol based artists, Catherine Baker and Anthony Rudman, and Haida Liang of the ISAAC group at Nottingham Trent University. The installations were inspired by colour science and modern imaging of Renaissance Masters.


Light & Colour

Each material has its unique spectral signature given by its spectral reflectance, which is the percentage of light it reflects in each part of the spectrum. For example, a blue pigment reflects more in the blue and less in the yellow part of the spectrum. The colour we perceive depends on the spectrum and intensity of the light, the lighting direction, the spectral reflectance and surface texture of the material and the spectral sensitivity of the eye. Two colour patches made of different pigment mixtures can appear to have the same colour under one light but different colours under another light. This is called metamerism and it is a problem to be avoided for most practical purposes, for example, in the textile and paint industries and in art restoration. Here we attempt to maximise the effect of metamerism using paint mixtures of different reflectance spectra and explore how light can change the appearance of a painting. Intervals, Maes Knoll, Dundry Hill and several small studies explore the effect of the spectrum, intensity and direction of the light source on the appearance of a painting.

Paintings & Infrared Imaging

Near infrared imaging is routinely used by conservators and art historians in museums and galleries to detect the drawings under the paint layers of Renaissance Master Painters. The installation, Stanton Drew, deconstructs the painting into layers, revealing the underdrawings using an infrared sensitive camera. Catherine Baker’s interest in layering and in painting with a restricted palette happens to match well with the idea of this project.

Colour-blindness & Colour Theory

Anthony Rudman explores colour-blindness and how to overcome it through colour theory in working as a colour blind artist and art tutor.