Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Master Class: Contrast Pairs

An Inviting Spot
10x9 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
What contrast pairs are at work here?

In my last Master Class post, I discussed three contrast pairs that are most useful for the plein air painter.  In this post, I’ll be writing about other contrast pairs.

First, what are contrast pairs good for? As we saw in my last post, using the principle of dominance in conjunction with contrast pairs helps to create a sense of mood.  This combination goes a long way when you are trying to “capture the moment.”  But in a more general sense, they’re also useful for creating richness in a painting.  What’s more, they can help move the eye through the painting and, ultimately, serve to support the center of interest.

Just to review, here are the three contrast pairs I find useful for landscapes:

  • light/dark (value)
  • warm/cool ( temperature)
  • rich/dull (chroma)

These are three of the four properties of color.  The fourth and final property is hue.  Hue can also be considered a contrast pair.  Here’s how.

Think blue/orange or any pair of complementary colors.  In a way, this is somewhat related to the contrast pair of warm/cool. Blue is usually thought of as a cool color, and orange, warm.  The early illustrators sometimes used just these two colors to create beautiful illustrations.  Whichever pair of complements you choose, one member must be warm and the other, cool.

You have a lot of control over the degree of contrast, which can be useful for creating mood.  Rather than black/white, which can indicate strong sunlight, you might use two greys that are just a few steps apart on the value scale; this can create a sense of overcast or even fog.  For a more harmonious painting, consider using a split-complement color pair.  Rather then red/green, you might choose red/blue-green or red/yellow-green.  This makes the contrast a little less jarring because the colors aren’t directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

For my next Master Class topic, I’ll talk about depth.

If you’re an advanced painter, do you have a Master Class topic you’d like to see discussed?  Let me know!


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