12-Simultaneous Contrast

Simultaneous Contrast is the very foundation of painting. Look to famous German artist and art educator Josef Albers to confirm this! We see and experience everything in relationship, not as isolated elements; colors, shape, objects. What is dark in one context appears light in another. What is tall in one context appears short in another. Richard McKinley explains this idea of simultaneous contrast really well in his wonderful book, Pastel Pointers.

First, have a look at the value scale below. The strip in the middle is the same middle value, a solid, NOT gradated, swatch! It appears to be gradated because of the surrounding values. Cool, right?

Next, the color examples. The colors in the middle appear to shift in value and hue based on the surrounding swatches.

Contrast 1

Contrast 2

Furthermore, as painters, its super important that we remember this concept. It helps me to remember that I’m building relationships. I want to build my painting as a whole, not puzzle piece it together and hope that all the pieces fit in the end. So I block the whole thing in and develop it as a whole, working ALL areas of the piece to bring them to a finish. I wouldn’t for instance, start in a corner and complete that corner. I work the entire piece.

My last lesson about color interaction is another great example of why we want to do this. Putting a color down, means absolutely nothing until we have another color next to it. Then we have something to work with, something to build on. People often ask me how I choose my first colors. Well, the answer is really that is doesn’t matter so much, it’s what comes next and then after that. You have to start somewhere, so you just start!

I always test out my marks on the side of my piece, (one of the reasons I don’t paint right to the edges of my paper). If I’m painting in oil, I have a test area on the canvas, that I know will get painted over later.

I don’t need to know exactly what’s going to happen with all the colors, I just need to be aware that things ARE going to happen.

Painter John Ruskin warned: “Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places; so that what was warm a minute ago, becomes cold when you have put a hotter color in another place, and what was in harmony when you left it, becomes discordant as you set other colors beside it”.

This is the dance that we are engaged in. I try to remember that it is a dance and enjoy!

With Warmest Regards,

Marla