3.11. Phosphorescence

Today’s post is about the process and outcome of week 4’s outcome. It began with the feedback I got from last week’s work, which suggested I should incorporate a more abstract animation and make use of glow-in-the-dark paint. As I write this, I am envisaging an outcome in which a canvas is brightly lit for one minute, and then glows eerily on its own for the next, and the process repeats. It makes me think about light and the transfer of energy – perhaps the ‘glowing’ effect would suggest bioluminescence, and how energy is never created nor destroyed. It’s self-sufficient, it’s a process…

The first step in the creative process was to locate some glow-in-the dark paint. A trip to Hobbycraft later and I was able to find three phosphorescent gels:




Blue, and



I’d never tried these before! I was eager to get painting with them and learn their properties. The green and blue gel were quite faded, pastel shades of their respective colours – would they glow that way? Or is this just how the paint looks in the light? Are they the same consistency as normal acrylic paint? Are they water-soluble? I had many questions like this, but before I could begin using them I had to brainstorm what I was going to do.

The night before, I’d had trouble sleeping, and noticed as I was trying to drift off that I was experiencing mild hallucinations, in the form of purple patterns. They were like a repeating series of purple webs that began in the middle and slowly expanded outwards.  I wondered if I was the only person to experience this? How do they work? Why do we experience them? I found an article on Huffington Post which described the phenomenon I was experiencing – phosphenes. These are caused by residual electrical charges produced by the retina while in its resting state, and they result in swirling patterns when our eyes are closed. I found this fascinating – everyone experiences a sort of light show when their eyes are closed, caused by the mechanics of their eyes! I felt this idea had artistic merit because it is relatable, it is beautiful, it is separate to our conscious minds, and it is not often talked about. I feel fascinated and almost comforted when I experience it, partly I suspect because when I do, I’m close to falling asleep. This odd state of wonderment and relaxation is a very attractive feeling, and in light of the work I have been doing recently I felt persuaded to re-create this feeling as an artwork.

Using my previous work and feedback as a framework for this week’s piece, I began to create the animation.

Shown above is one step in the process – with the animation shown here, the purple blob in the centre expands outwards to fill the screen and then disappears. Note that the file has “layer 2” in the title – this animation is one of four slightly different versions of the same one. The finished video was the four animations layered on top of each other.

I used PowerPoint because, although it’s not strictly an animation program, it’s the only one I have much experience with, the only one I have on my computer, and I think if used effectively, the scope of animations you can create is surprisingly good.

You can see here the purple shape expanding to fill the screen.

I created a small, purple shape and added a ‘growing’ animation, making it swell to 1500% of its size. This created the impression of it swelling to fill my vision, like phosphenes do.


This view (above) shows the animation pane. This enables the user to add animations to an object and queue them in any order. For each animation, you can change the timings, triggers, and repeats, giving you full control.

You can see here the advantage of iMovie – it comes with several colour filter options, and this view encapsulates the effects of increased colour saturation on the animation. You can see the purple fading to deep blue.

I made four different animations of this type, each with a slightly different shape, and used QuickTime player’s screen record function to transform them into video files. Once I had done this, I was able to edit them into a sequence using Apple’s iMovie, as seen below.

This view displ

By putting each 15-second animation in order and layering them over each other, I created a thirty-eight second sequence of swelling, purple lights. Next, I considered the feedback I’d received from last week’s work, and thought about how best to showcase the phosphorescent painting. I therefore added around thirty seconds of blank screen to the beginning, with the intention of displaying the piece on loop – resulting in an alternation between bright purple and blankness. I felt this represented the feeling of drifting off to sleep very well, because it is akin to an interrupted, cyclical sleep pattern.

With the animation finished, I had two things left to consider: the painting and the soundtrack. You can read about the process of creating these here




Published by William Fowler

I'm studying Art and English Literature at the University of Reading. My work includes painting, drawing, installation, film, performance, writing, and music. My main influences are surrealism, psychedelia, philosophy, literature, op art, and Arte Povera.

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