Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where we get our inspiration from and how seemingly unrelated things can lead to fantastic works of art.
One of my favourite painters is Vermeer. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an artsy jargon-laden post. If you don’t really know much about Vermeer, here’s the rundown:
Who: Johannes Vermeer
Where: Delft, South Holland, The Netherlands
Why: Known best for his exquisite mastery of light and realism in paintings, as well as the extremely rich colours he chose for his paints.
How: Good ol’ natural side window lighting! (Possibly aided by a camera obscura)
Why do I love his work? Well, even though a lot of it looks quite mundane at first glance, if you take a closer look, it’s really quite amazing at how perfect he captured the intricacies of light, one stroke at a time. In the 1600s! One of his trademarks was his ability to show how light is made of various hues. For example, a simple white wall (see below) might actually be made up of greys and blues and yellows to show warmer and cooler contrasts. I guess it’s the sheer subtlety that impresses me.
Vermeer used a technique that might seem simple to us today, but at the time it was practically unheard of. He used an underwash of paint to bring out depth and shadows in his images. For example, the blue apron around the milkmaid’s waist would probably be first painted as red or vermillion. Then Vermeer would layer various different shades of blues over it to give us the realistic folds and drapes that we see.
I’m sure everyone knows or has at least seen this painting before. My favourite part about it is the light that the earring casts on the girl’s face. Again, it’s something so subtle, but it makes the picture.
Studying his works has helped me enormously in becoming more sensitive to very slight changes in light and to know how to manipulate it for my purposes. Besides that, it’s just a treat to spend a few hours simply drooling gazing at his paintings. If you’re interested in learning more about his works, have a look at Essential Vermeer, a brilliant site that has collected every last detail about his life. Once I start reading, I soon found myself marvelling over maps of Delft in the 1600s, trying to decipher Vermeer’s will, listening to music from his time and poring over
the floorplans of his house and studio. It’s a fun little armchair trip!