Painting in the 1500s Titian explored expressive gestures and a soft dissolving focus. In the 1600s Rembrandt would follow but, synthesized the dissolving gestures of Titian with his own combination of dissolve vs. sparkle. He borrowed Titian’s designs and retooled them. Dutch artists like Rembrandt made his highlights pop in sparkling notes out from the picture plane, the hilt of a sword, the glisten of a gold chain, the catchlight on a shiny nose. In landscapes he pushed deeper space with rolling glowing effects of softly blended edges and complex shadows. He amplified this space further with small areas of sharply delineated light, patches of sparkle. Example 1 offers a detail of a Titian landscape. Notice the soft edges, the dissolution of form, the sloping triangular mountain holding a bright tower with a soft note of glow. Rembrandt (example 2) will borrow this design but, he restrains the color and offers more contrast with a few sharper edges. The crisp edges of light against dark generate a brighter, sparkling effect of light.
In the 1800s Corot will borrow lessons from Rembrandt and Titian. He makes a gauzy atmosphere of gentle contrasts with blended and broken edges (anticipating Impressionism). His bright touches of light paint are laid upon a darker background making them hover in air and sparkle with light. His foliage and distance is blurred into close harmony (example 3). If I use a brighter color palette, borrow the triangular designs of Rembrandt and Titian, borrow the soft focus touches of Corot and, heighten the complementary color effects I can take the streets of Boston and turn them into an abstraction with motion (example 4.)
If I take a photo with dissolved edges I generate a feeling of glow. I move the camera vertically and quickly while a depress the shutter to find a vertical sense of motion coupled to the glow of blurred edges (example 5). I can blur the paint just as a blurred the image in the camera. With paint I can heighten the color, the feeling of gesture, and the color contrast of warm vs. cool (example 6) to create an overall unifying mysterious glow.
Here is a sequence of steps demonstrating the evolution of a painting from the first blurry lay-in to the eventual quest for sparkle. Remember the recipe for sparkle is small areas of sharp light surrounded by dark while the recipe for glow depends upon dissolved edges and more graduated contrasts. In example 7 (step 1) I lay down a soft gamboge in a loose rectangular spiral. Next, (example 8, step 2) I gently sweep carmine over some of the yellow areas and deep ultramarine blue across much of the interior space of the picture. The effect is deep color with soft sense of motion. Then ( example 9, step 3) I find edges of light against dark. High contrast edges attract our attention away from the soft motion of the blended areas of color and prompt us to see more nameable shapes. In example 10, step 4, I build fragmentation with more edges which diminishes the overall sense of glow but, heightens the sense of scattered sparkle. More edges diminish ambiguity. Therefore, in example 11 step 5 I re-introduce more blending while also increasing the specificity of bright edges. Blur and Sparkle can cohabit the same image and increase its liveliness.
Examples 12, 13 and 14 all demonstrate different relationships between blur and sparkle. In Example 12 I use the sparkle to create a radiating set of floating reflections. In example 13, I use sparkling bright and dark triangle shapes to interrupt the gentle color transition of the surface as it moves from dark blue up toward a warm pastel amber and orange. In example 14 the migration of the painting is again from dark up to light across a textured surface. Here the surface more granulated, layered and variegated. The cumulative effect is a soft surface built out of a collection of more brittle pieces.