The Importance of Contrast

When I think of visual contrast, especially as it pertains to painting, the first thing that comes to mind is light/dark, but contrast is so much more than that.

I am on the tail end of my Second Annual Self Made Artist Residency in Florida and unfortunately, a bout of the flu set me back a week in my plans, so I’m afraid that a lengthy blog post isn’t in the cards. However, a valuable lesson is…

While a good part of this residency is reserved for time to paint, read, write, rest, I also spend a lot of it hiking and taking photographs for painting inspiration…or I photograph just because I see a thing and want to keep it forever 😉 Looking at these photographs as well as paintings I’m attracted to, both my own and other’s work, I’m learning there is one thing that I need to see to both attract and keep my interest: CONTRAST.

When I think of visual contrast, especially as it pertains to painting, the first thing that comes to mind is light/dark, but contrast is so much more than that. In Christopher Alexander’s amazing list, 15 Elements of Style, contrast is succinctly defined as ‘visible opposites’. It became most apparent to me to create a list of what those opposites could be when teaching my Beyond the Basics Encaustic Workshop. During the excavation phase-scraping and carving out a composition after laying down layers of paint and/or during an Encaustic PaintSmash session (see links below)-its like unwrapping a gift, but the gift can shift and morph into one amazing thing after another. Students often ask what to look for, what to highlight…and the answer is always, Contrast. The following list has grown considerably since I first started it in BTB Encaustic and its now shared with all of my workshops. I hope you find it helpful to your process and please feel free to add to it! Below are some paintings chosen randomly from my Pinterest Collection that exemplify the points on the list.

  • Complimentary colors
  • Smooth vs texture
  • Geometric vs organic form
  • Light vs dark-value
  • Solid vs patterned
  • Earthy/grays vs brights/clear
  • Sharp vs Blurry
  • Detail vs Loose

VISIT THIS POST to see images of student work, plus more in depth information about Beyond the Basics Encaustic. Visit this post, this post, this post and this post for more information and images about Encaustic PaintSmash as well as my YouTube Channel for videos.

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

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