Acrylic: Interference Colors
Illuminate Acrylic Paintings


Interference colors offer acrylic painters a new way to jazz up their paintings.

by Stephanie Kaplan


Braukman's students created color samples so that they could experiment with interference colors and have a reference palette throughout the workshop.  Here, black gesso was painted on white tag board to provide a base for the interference colors.  When the samples were placed next to each other, they demonstrated how the colors change depending on how the light hits the paint.
Artist and instructor Mary Alice Braukman loves to use special acrylic paints to create unusual and exhilarating mixed - media collages.  These unique acrylic paints - called interference colors - allow her to paint with colors that produce visual effects based on two variables: the viewer's angle in regard to the colors and how the light hits the pigment. Braukman particularly enjoys experimenting with and teaching new techniques.  "My paintings incorporate myriad techniques," she says, "from color-pouring to mixing layers of media, but I always try to incorporate the varying techniques seamlessly."

Interference colors exemplify what Braukman calls a "hidden technique" because the viewer never quite knows why the paint looks different in varying light conditions.  The mystery behind this relatively new medium
is not so mysterious: the paint's pigments are made from mica minerals that have been coated with a layer of titanium dioxide.  Coating the mica particles with differing amounts of titanium dioxide determines which color is reflected.  In contrast to iridescent pearl pigments, which reflect white (the total color spectrum), interference colors reflect only one color from the total spectrum and therefore should be applied in a thin layer over a base acrylic color.  Painting interference colors over a light color will yield a complementary color, while painting over a dark color allows viewers to see the labeled interference color.  (The effects of interference colors are more visible when the paint has been applied over dark colors because dark colors absorb light rays.)  The reflective qualities of opalescent mica are also enhanced when the paint is applied over dark colors because the light absorption cancels out the transmission of the complementary color.  The visual effects of interference color also depend on the relationship between neighboring colors on a canvas because one color will pick up the other's complement.

Braukman also emphasizes that interference colors must be used in moderation.  "You don't want to use a lot," she explains, "because it's like adding gold leaf or brilliant color.  When you look at it at first, you don't see much, but when you look at it again, it shimmers."  For example, she often recommends in her workshops that realistic painters use interference colors just to add highlight and sparkle over small, dark portions of their paintings.  For students who want to paint their entire composition with interference colors, Braukman reminds, "The main idea is that you really want to highlight something."

Braukman speculates that more artists are discovering the creative possibilities that come with using interference colors because they offer yet another way for artists to manipulate color.  "More artists are also using them now because more brands are coming out with interference colors," she explains.  For her own work, Braukman uses and recommends Golden Interference Colors, which come in blue, gold, green, red, orange, oxide green, and oxide red.  She also suggests that some artists may want to mix interference colors with gels or mediums in 10 parts gel or medium to one part interference color.

About the Artist
Another example of how interference colors change under different lighting conditions.

Mary Alice Braukman is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, the Georgia Watercolor Society, the Kentucky Watercolor Society, and The Florida Watercolor Society, where she has previously served as president and executive board member.  Born and raised in Tampa, and now living in St. Petersburg, Florida, and spending the summers in North Carolina, Braukman helps with the Kanuga Watercolor/Watermedia Workshops, an annual weeklong school.  The artist is in much demand as a workshop instructor and a show juror, and her work has been juried into numerous watercolor exhibitions over the past 20 years.  Braukman was the guest editor of the fall 2001 issue of Watercolor magazine.  Her art is in many corporate and private collections, and she has been represented by Nancy Markoe Gallery, in St. Pete Beach, Florida, for more than 20 years.

About Kanuga Watercolor/Watermedia Workshops
Mary Alice Braukman has served as one of the organizers of the Kanuga Watercolor/Watermedia Workshops-located in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina-for more than 12 years, and she continues to work for the workshop in a number of capacities, including as an instructor.  All levels of painters are welcome, and lodging is available on the 1,400-acre conference and workshop campus. About 12 Watermedia workshops are held at Kanuga every March during one week of activity; each instructor teaches up to 26 students in the classrooms.  Spouses and friends are welcome to join participants at the facility for an additional lodging fee.  Meals are provided.

Stephanie Kaplan is the online editor of American Artist.
American Artist Magazine
September 18, 2007