Friday, December 18, 2009

Dominance in Contrasting Pairs

The other morning, we went up the Schnebly Hill road to the end of the paved section. Here, you've got red rocks looming over you from all sides. I chose to do a small study of Thunder Mountain (once known as Capitol Mountain). I've always enjoyed looking at this landmark. It dominates the view in West Sedona and has wonderful shadows at almost any time of day.

"Thunder Mountain"
5x7, oil - SOLD

I've found that breaking down the painting process into discrete steps goes a long way to making a successful piece. For example, I like to think of the types of contrast that go into a painting and the logical order in which one might attack them. I look at value first and the amount of light and dark that I want to use. In order of attack, other contrasts include:

1. Value (light/dark)
2. Shape (round/rectangular)
3. Temperature (warm/cool)
4. Hue (think of complementary pairs such as red/green)
5. Brushwork contrasts (think of thick/thin paint, opaque/transparent passages, hard/soft edges)

You can probably think of others.

Contrast pairs should always be weighted in favor of one of the extremes. One member of the pair should cover more real estate than the other. If you look at the painting above, you can see how I approached dominance:

1. Value. My scene was a lot of light with just a little dark.
2. Shape. Most of the big shapes are prismatic with a few, smaller and rounder shapes.
3. Temperature. Most shapes are warm with the small shapes being shadowed and cooler.
4. Hue. Most of the painting lies in the blue/green part of the color wheel with less of it in the yellow/red part.
5. Brushwork. I used mostly thick, opaque paint with some thinner, more transparent passages in the shadows.

Working in this way guarantees you a painting with a lot of interesting contrasts to lure the viewer's eye.


Randy Smith said...


I was sitting at my table looking at a painting I'm working on - wondering why it's not working the way I'd like. Bam! your new entry popped up. I read it, looked up at my painting and you nailed it. The most important section was equally light and dark values.I got up, made some corrections and... problem solved. Talk about perfect timing. Thanks!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Good timing, indeed! Glad it helped.

Dennis Dame said...

Nice painting Michael! Thanks for the great reminders!

Bill Cramer said...

Cool painting Michael! And thanks for the contrast list. I have a list I made into a mnemonic to help me remember it, She Fed Her Little Boys Cookies (SFHLBC), but it's meaning is a trade secret ;-) I may have to amend it after reading your post.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Aw, please share, Bill! Your mnemonic may become as famous as Roy G. Bv.