Sunday, 11 May 2014 do I get my pictures to sparkle?

It's a slightly strange word to use when talking about paintings, isn't it.  Why SHOULD a picture "sparkle"?  It is not a shiny piece of metal.........yet this elusive quality is something many people want to achieve, yet they find themselves producing images which seem somewhat dull and lifeless.

Actually -  there is nothing whatsoever wrong with a quiet, subtle image which relies on soft, muted tones - those tones which provide a very different kind of atmosphere, more contemplative perhaps.

I like strong contrasts of tone in my images, lots of drama and interest - I think I am a tonal painter at heart really, more than a colourist.  I find it quite difficult to make colour "speak" in the way that some artists are able to do, without using strong tonal contrasts.

For me, light (and shadow) is the key.  If I work with a wide range of tone, from very dark to very light with plenty of intermediate tones in between, I find that the picture automatically has the light and shade in it that gives me the element of sparkle - drama - call it what you will - that I might desire.

It amazes me how many people work from uninspiring subject matter, giving no thought to the light in the scene - only concerning themselves with the objects which make up the scene.

I also find that working on a dark ground is really helpful in this respect too.  When working with pastels, with marks which are not blended, but instead allowed to show underneath layers, a dark ground instantly provides deep, dark areas for my darkest shapes in the image, I do not have to build up layers of dark colours right from the beginning.  Try it for on a light ground, pale grey for instance, and then create the same image on black paper.  The result will be stunningly different.

Here is a new image, painted for my forthcoming Open Garden/Studio event next month.  It was worked onto black paper:  The sun plays an important role, illuminating the figures and the front part of the scene.  The dark interior of the flower stall was easy to achieve, allowing the dark of the paper to do its work, with very subtle, dark colour blocked in to suggest interior shapes.  It is a typical "Jackie Simmonds" with strong colours,  colour harmony and a hint of colour complements in there too, and above all,,  plenty of sparkle.  I am showing it in large form, so that you can really see the marks, and can see how the colour of the paper influences those marks.  Laid on thickly, one can disguise the colour of the paper.........but allowing it to show through even slightly, makes an impact. 

If you are someone who yearns for more punch in your images, why not try a dark ground.......and choose your subject matter for its contrast and drama..............and see if you can produce something which will sparkle and glow!

Send me a jpg of your finished piece.......I will do a follow up blog post to show the best ones.  If you can send it together with one you did earlier which did NOT have sparkle, it would be interesting to see, and show both.   Send them to me at jackiesdesk at


  1. Thank you for the thoughtful posting and the lovely example on the much maligned "bumpy" side of Canson Mi Tientes.

  2. Have not worked on black for a while. You have made me want to again. Thanks for this post.


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