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The Power of Contrast in Your Paintings

For this weeks ‘Painting Tip’ I wanted to share a little painting tip that I’ve always found to be incredibly useful when painting: creating high contrast in your paintings using value. 

By juxtaposing light against dark, you can draw the viewer’s eye to the most important parts of your artwork, making it more dynamic and captivating.

Take a look at this wonderful piece by Joaquín Sorolla, “The Bathing Hour.” Notice how the bright fabric and the lit parts of the water stand out sharply against the darker tones of the figures, the bulls, and the shadows.

This contrast not only guides our eyes but also adds depth and interest to the scene.

Look at the images below of both the coloured and a greyscale version of the painting. The greyscale version especially highlights how the light and dark areas play off each other.

Look Closely at the Values on the Right

The next time you pick up a brush, try thinking about where your contrasts will be in your paintings.

Identify the focal points and use value contrast to make them pop. Whether it’s a bright sky against a dark landscape or a highlighted figure against a shadowy background, value contrast can make your artwork more engaging and visually striking.

Suggestion for Practice

To practice this technique, try creating a simple still life. Arrange objects with varying values, and focus on how the light interacts with these objects. Paint the scene, paying close attention to the contrasts between light and dark. Then, convert your painting to greyscale (either using a photo editing tool or by painting a black and white version) to see how well you’ve captured the value contrasts.

Happy painting!

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