UV And Me
Updated: Feb 14
Prior to around about this time last year, I had never used UV media before. I had come across it on various occasions, such as at a performance by a Czech troupe of Alice in Wonderland at Sadler’s Wells theatre which I saw as a student, and during which I was impressed by the way in which a teapot and cups appeared to float in space several feet in the air. However, I did not consider working in this medium or approach it with any level of seriousness until many years later, when I came to a point at which it was clear that Art should continue to play a significant part in my future existence, and that the onus was on me to find something which I could take and run with, and which would hold my interest sufficiently.
Leading up to that moment of revelation, I had had something of a creative drought. Unusually for me, I had run out of ideas, and had been steeped in a depression for the better part of 5 years. I was fishing around for something new to explore, which would give me some additional creative latitude, and by degrees haul me out of my funk. Thus, it was that the idea for using UV paints came to mind. Like many of my ideas, this one was spontaneous; I have no recollection of how, or why, it came about, and there was no logical progression from my previous work - all the better, in my opinion.
I lost no time in ordering myself a UV torch, as well as experimenting with samples of all kinds of UV paint, whether visible or invisible. As a result, I would say my preferment is for using pigment powders with brilliant colours, which I then mix with a brand of very bright white UV paint that acts as a binder. The colour can then be made very intense or more muted, according to taste. UV paints have a gel-like consistency, which for me was new and odd to work with, and I found that some of the colours which were sold ready-mixed, did not in fact have the especially bright or saturated colour or performance that I might have expected. This held true for both visible and invisible UV paints, and under both normal and UV light.
Equally important was the type of ground I chose to work on - whether this was paper, canvas, metal, or fabric - and the quantities of material involved and coverage needed. With pigments, a little goes a long way, and can therefore last a surprisingly long time if, as in my case, they are used to make relatively small artworks. I prefer to be mindful of the environment, so as far as I’m able, use as sparing amounts of pigment and paint as I can in my work.
To bring the UV effect to the fore, and make the best use of materials, the ground for painting may need to be primed before applying the design. UV paints work best on the type of white ground which itself does not glow under UV light, as this enables the image to stand out from, rather than get lost in, the background under blacklight conditions. They don’t work that well when applied directly to backgrounds which are black to begin with. This type of background will not support the reaction of the UV pigment sufficiently to enable colours to shine out strongly, so I’d personally recommend that a design on a black background be first underpainted with a non-UV white ground, in order to provide a good base for the UV layer on top.
Indeed, the painting process is very much a matter of layering; one of the rather magical and appealing effects of UV paint is that, if used judiciously, it can be applied to create a completely different effect when a painting is viewed under UV light, than when it is viewed under normal light. This is something which is exploited by many artists who work with the medium, by selectively overpainting a work made using non-UV paints. Brushstrokes and hidden messages, which may be invisible under normal light, will suddenly be revealed with a UV torch.
Presently, I have found myself making the bulk of the paintings I’m working on using UV paints. This is partly due to my own inner pedantry and the fact that I enjoy the process of toiling laboriously at my work, but also because it gives me something of a thrill to be able to create two different and alternative options or worlds, instead of just one. Hung on the walls of a room, such images are apt to come into their own whilst navigating the immediate territory with a UV torch, in the event of a power cut on a dark night.
I work on paper and canvas, using several other drawing and painting tools in addition to UV media. Whilst I paint all manner of subjects and objects - ranging from very close-up views to medium range, to those which are more distant - whatever I am seeking to portray, will dictate the manner of its portrayal. For example, in a landscape or interior scene, I will sometimes let the non-reflective white of the paper I use, do the talking - so that under UV light, the impression is created of the same scene under dusky, or nocturnal lighting conditions. Shapes will either become more spookily obscure, or jump out from the page. Or, if I’m painting from a snapshot of a live music performance, I will emphasize the role that all kinds of different coloured lights play in defining figures, as well as the strange shapes and ghostly transient forms they take on, where the show takes place against a backdrop of projections. The balance of the different colours, and the knowledge of how they behave alongside each other, is crucial in this respect; some “glow” more obviously than others.
Good colour quality is very important; I wouldn't recommend becoming "stuck on" a particular brand of paint, if a cheaper brand or material can give an unexpectedly better performance. I took my time in selecting a decent "pure brilliant white"; as mail-order had proved so frustrating in terms of finding a product which behaved as I would like it to, it eventually proved to be a matter of walking into an Art store with a UV torch, and selecting the brightest and best products therewith. This is why I won't recommend any specific brands, as it truly is a matter of experimentation.
I like to tackle any new painting - as I do any of my projects, with fresh eyes, treating it as a learning curve, and an opportunity to discover something I hadn’t known existed before. I am satisfied that I am now becoming reasonably familiar with being able to portray candlelight, but painting the Art-Deco-like shafts of light at an electronic gig was an altogether different matter - it being something which I was unused to, and which was very difficult to get right. This is where it became important to hold the vision of the work slowly moulding itself into being in front of me, and to compare it with the vision of where I eventually wanted to take it.
For my part, I don’t think I’ve even scratched the tip of the iceberg with this particular area of work, and the techniques I am using, as it is endlessly fascinating in its ability to open up new worlds beckoning to be discovered, and places to which I can go. I suspect that it will keep me occupied, and much entertained, for a long time to come.
I sell my paintings through Etsy:
Paintings using UV media:
Jowe’s House https://www.crimari.com/jowe-s-house
The Gig https://www.crimari.com/the-gig