Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!
The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.
Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.
Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere. And no critiques unless specifically asked for. The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!
Please note: The photos this month are taken by me, or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.
This month’s Spotlight is on…Contrast!
The use of contrast is certainly one of the most important “tools” in the artist’s toolbox, so I hope you don’t mind if we study the topic a little more in-depth in this month’s Spotlight! I’d like to share some things that I have learned about using contrast over the years. Keep in mind that I will be giving my observations and opinions, but hopefully your observations will be similar!
When artists discuss contrast, it is usually value
contrast that first comes to mind. Value being the degree of light to dark something appears. Here are a couple examples of paintings that primarily use value contrast to define shapes, objects, etc.
Monet (left) uses dark shapes – almost silhouettes – to make things stand out against the lighter water and sky values. Renoir (right) makes the girl’s face and blouse stand out against the background by using light values against dark. If we turn the paintings into grayscale, we see the values better and the paintings do not change that much.
Notice that in the Renoir, the face is the lightest value and the area around the face is the darkest. This area of high contrast helps draw our attention to her face. Notice also that her hair is very close in value to the background, so we don’t notice the hair very much. By manipulating contrast, however, we can change what parts of our paintings are emphasized. In the Renoirs below, we see some different value contrast strategies. On the left, the face is still light and the hair is still dark, but the background is more of a middle value which allows the hair to be a bit more noticeable. On the right, the dark hair is contrasted by the light face and a light value background making the hair very noticeable. The value contrasts help dictate what is emphasized and what is not in your painting.
A couple more examples – again, Monet and Renoir (Gee, can you guess who two of my favorite painters are?):
One thing I notice about the Monet landscape is that the highest value contrast is the middle ground trees against the water and sky. The foreground, even though there are some detailed grasses there, has almost no value contrast. So my eye goes right over those grasses with barely a notice.
In the Renoir, I notice the woman's face/profile right away – that is the center of interest. It is also an area of very high contrast. The back of her head/hair/neck and her hat, on the other hand, have very little contrast with the background making those areas very un-noticeable. In fact, using adjacent areas of little or no contrast is a way to create lost and soft edges.
So, when it comes to manipulating contrast in our paintings, we can generally conclude that:
Greater contrast = greater emphasis.
Less contrast = less emphasis.
Little or no contrast = one way to create soft or lost edges with little emphasis.
But value contrast isn’t the only contrast in out toolbox! Another major area where we can use contrast is color! In fact, there are two types of contrasts that have to do with color – contrast in hue and contrast in intensity.
Hue contrast is often achieved using complimentary colors – or near compliments (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red-green, orange-blue, yellow-purple. These colors are also combinations of warm and cool colors, so hue contrast is also usually warm/cool color contrast).
Intense or bright colors would have lots of contrast with dull or neutralized (grayed) colors.
These types of color contrast can be used in the same way as value contrast – to create areas of emphasis and attract the eye. Contrast also is used, of course, to add “punch” and visual excitement to drawings and paintings.
Let’s look at some color contrast!
The Renoir (top) uses complimentary color contrast between the boat and the water. Both the orange and blue are quite intense, so the contrast is mainly one of hue – and since orange is warm and blue is cool it is also a warm/cool contrast. But it seems to work well - the boat is clearly seen and attracts our attention. In the Monet (below) there is both hue and intensity contrast. The warm orange and yellow colors of the land contrast with the cool greens and blues of the water. The land colors are also brighter and more intense compared to the water which is duller and grayer. Let’s take a look at the grayscale version of these:
Without color contrast, Renoir’s boat almost disappears! It is primarily hue contrast that makes it stand out in the original. Please note that Renoir is still using value contrast in many places, including the very light valued women’s dresses against the darker valued water. Monet’s painting is very low in value contrast. His painting primarily uses color contrast – both hue and intensity – to accomplish its goals.
This photo has both types of color contrast, hue and intensity. This makes the orange leaves about as vibrant as possible. Let’s remove the hue contrast (orange-blue) and see what happens.
Now we only have intense/dull contrast, but the leaves are still emphasized, but not as vibrant.
What if we reduce the intensity contrast?
With less contrast, the leaves stand out even less. Where the background has the most color intensity, the leaves almost blend in.
So, we can see that the manipulation of color contrast, as well as value contrast, can change the nature of our paintings.
Note about using grayscale images to critique your paintings:
As we saw in our first examples, using a grayscale image can make it easier to judge the values and the value contrast. Many people recommend them for self-critique. In fact, I have used grayscales when critiquing numerous times here on WC. But as we have just seen, grayscale images do not show any types of color contrast. So, while grayscales can be very beneficial to judge value contrast in a painting, they have serious limitations for paintings using a lot of color contrast. I think it is important to realize these limitations and not change your paintings bases solely on what you see in the grayscale version.
That concludes my observations and opinions about value and color contrast!
Photo by Jemgold
Photo by she-she
Photo by aznugget
Photo by our very own Merethe T
Photo by stalksthedawn
Photo by me
Also feel free to use my "orange leaves" photo from above as a ref pic.
Please post your paintings, sketches, questions, observations here in this thread as we explore Contrast!