Working from Dark to Light

July 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

July 31, 2010

I’ve been looking at the contrast between objects hidden in darkness but revealed by light.  In a round about way I’ve been thinking about science, art, biology and spirituality.

As you may already know I’ve been recently doing research on microscopes and microscopic organisms.  Microscopes are fascinating because the very act of looking in the microscope is one of looking through a dark tunnel with a light at the end.  It’s interesting to think of a scientific instrument this way, as going toward the light is a metaphor usually reserved for a near death or spiritual experience.

Carravagio | St. Jerome

Carravagio (Italy) | St. Jerome

{image courtesy of Wikipedia:}

Strong contrasts from light to dark in art are  known as chiaroscuro (literally light-dark in Italian) and the use of chiaroscuro as a major style device is known as tenebrism (seen in the Caravaggio painting above). Tenebrism was a popular effect in both Mannerist and Baroque painting styles and is often utilized in emotive religious and historical paintings of the time.

These techniques were often employed in still lives (pictured below) making the objects depicted seem serious, intense, and mysterious.

Josefa de Obidos (Spain) | 1676

Josefa de Obidos (Spain) | 1676

{Image courtesy of Wikipedia:}

So what does this have to do have me wanting a rad microscope and my artwork? I’ve recently learned about dark field microscopy, which creates a microscopic image which has a dark back ground and causes the specimen to have stronger coloring (see below).  Since my own work already has saturated colors on a dark background I’m really excited to try this method out.  You can build your own dark field adapter relatively easily out of common household materials!

Example of Dark Field Microscopy | Blood Clot

Example of Dark Field Microscopy | Blood Clot

{Image courtesy of}

I feel like right now is an exciting time to start looking at microcosmic environments – this week the BBC featured an article that described the 1% yearly decrease in plankton populations.  Although the article is about algal blooms in the world’s oceans studied from space it is quite relevant to our everyday experience.  Phytoplankton produce half the oxygen we breathe and is the basic building block for all life in the ocean!

At the end of the day what readily comes to mind is a quote from William Blake:

“To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.”
Source: “Auguries of Innocence,” in Poems from the Pickering Manuscript.

As always,  thanks for reading!

❤ Grace Willard


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