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Of Rainbows - Perspectives No. 444

Of Rainbows

Perspectives No. 444

Murnau with Rainbow, 1909, Wassily Kandinsky
Murnau with Rainbow          1909          Wassily Kandinsky

   How lucky we are to have friends who send us books that they know we will find interesting. This is how Adam Rogers’s new book, Full Spectrum - How the Science of Color Made Us Modern came to us. It is filled with interesting information about the history of understanding light and color and our ongoing quest to create more and more brilliant and vivid colors.

   Rogers addresses the commitment of scholars from ancient Greece, the Arab world and Europe, all working to understand the nature of light. One of the phenomena providing clues was the rainbow. Besides being a source of delight and what once was thought to be magic, rainbows helped scientists to understand the light refractions and reflections that produce the colors we see.

   Refraction is caused by sunlight changing direction as it travels through a denser medium than dry air—for example, a raindrop. It is then reflected off of the backside of the raindrop, then refracted again as it travels out of the drop. The different wavelengths of sunlight travel at different speeds when passing through a denser medium. The white light is thus split into different colors.

   Typically a rainbow arc has red (a longer wavelength) on its outermost part and violet (a shorter wavelength) on its inner side. Interestingly in the rarer double rainbow, the colors are reversed. As Rogers notes in his book, “Doesn’t make sense.” Scientists, though, believe it is caused by light being reflected twice inside the water droplet.

   There is also a phenomenon knows as a twinned rainbow, rarer even than the double rainbow. Because the two rainbow arcs split from one base, they maintain the same order as each other rather than reversing as in the double rainbow.

   Rarer yet, is the triple rainbow, with light reflected three times within a raindrop.

   Naturally artists have been fascinated with rainbows, always grasping at being able to convey the untouchable qualities of light onto canvas or paper. Ironically, I missed a double rainbow while I was writing this article!

Rainbow, 1902-04, Maurice Prendergast
Rainbow          1902-04          Maurice Prendergast

The Rainbow, 1907, Joaquin Sorolla
The Rainbow          1907          Joaqin Sorolla




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.

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About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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