Bryan Spier creates luminescent abstract paintings with an irresistible quality of spontaneity in their composition and lightness of touch in the way he uses colour. He gave us really interesting insights into his working practice, which is very considered and specific. He demonstrated his tricks for getting a really sharp edge with masking tape. He recommends green painter’s tape from the hardware shop, because it’s not too tacky but provides a good seal. You don’t want it so sticky that it brings paint up with it when you pull it off already painted areas. When you’ve laid the tape where you want it, run your thumb nail along the edge you plan to paint against, to push it down very firmly. Bryan then sealed the edge with Gamblin PVA size so there is no chance at all of any paint seeping under the tape.
Bryan then explained how to use a colour wheel, and demonstrated some of the different sorts of greens you can get by mixing different blues and yellows, and the different oranges you can get by mixing different yellows and reds. Bryan’s basic primary colour kit consists of phthalo blue (greenish shade), hansa yellow light and magenta. Top tip – always mix your dark into your light, otherwise you’ll waste a lot of paint trying to lighten up the dark. (probably everyone else knows that, but I was like – oh yeah! Of course!!)
Another top tip is: when working in acrylics, if you want subtle gradations of colour and tone – you must mix up all your colours first, because acrylics dry darker so you can’t judge one against another if one is wet and one is dry – you need them all wet at the same time to judge the tonal difference. He mixes them up quite watery and keeps them in takeaway food containers with the lids on.
In an act of extreme generosity, Bryan gave away the secret to the shimmering effect he achieves in his paintings. Equiluminescence. When you put two colours of equal brightness next to each other, the eye can’t distinguish the line between them, creating an optical vibration. You can also see this effect in Joseph Turner’s ‘The Slave Ship’ where the red sun is surrounded by grey clouds of the same tonal value. We weren’t offered a formula for this, but like a lot of these demonstrations, the emphasis is on the artist being attentive to the material, making constant judgements and continually testing, practising and experimenting.
Julia Gorman 2013
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