Another essential element of the principles of good design is contrast. This principle is often applied when an artist wants to add visual interest, excitement, and drama to an art piece.
Defining Contrast in Art
Contrast is the positioning of opposing components in a work of art. It occurs when two or more related elements are strikingly different—the greater the difference, the greater the contrast.
Opposing Elements in Art
The key to working with contrast is to make sure the differences are apparent. The most common ways of creating contrast are by creating differences in:
- Color — complementary colors on the color wheel, i.e., red vs. green, blue vs. orange, yellow vs. violet
- Hue — saturated vs. muted colors
- Movement — fast vs. slow
- Shape — organic vs. geometric shapes
- Size — large vs. small shapes
- Space — positive vs. negative
- Temperature — warm vs. cool
- Texture — rough vs. smooth
- Value — light vs. dark
The Significance of Contrast
Contrast is significant because it adds variety to the total design and creates unity. It draws the viewer’s eye into the painting and helps to guide the viewer around the art piece.
Contrast also adds visual interest. Most designs require a certain amount of contrast; if there is too much similarity of the components in any design, it will become monotonous—too little contrast results in a design that is bland and uninteresting to view. However, please don’t overdo it, as too much contract can cause the design to be confusing. It takes just the right amount of contrast to engage the viewer’s participation in comparing various artwork components. For instance, the viewer will compare light and dark areas of a painting, wide lines and thin lines, light-weight forms and heavy forms, filled spaces, and unfilled spaces, etc.
Some Examples of the Effective Use of Contrast
The contrast in the illustration of a coffee pot and cups is quite apparent. Notice the contrast of the light background (wall) with the dark foreground (table cloth) and the contrast of the dark shadows on the teapot and cup against the wall and with the lights of the same objects against a dark window.
There is also a contrast of thin and thick lines in the napkin, straight and curved lines, and don’t miss the contrast created by geometric shapes (coffee pot and cups) with organic forms (steam and clouds). The dark steam is also contrasted with the light clouds off in the distance.
The illustration of the lady and parrot is an excellent example of the contrast between lights and darks. A contrast of color exists between the red parrot and white dress. Also, notice the contrast in the roundness of shapes in the foreground against the flatness of the dark background. Contrast of texture is also implied by the softness of the silk dress and the bird’s soft feathers against the hard, flat background.
Contrast in this painting is much more subtle. There is a contrast in texture. Notice the rigid texture of the fence in the background compared with the softness of the butterflies and kittens. Also, a contrast exists between the soil and the foliage. The kittens themselves have a contrast depicted in their colors versus the color of the fence in the background and even with each other. And the red flowers versus green grass promote a contrast of complementary colors.
- Why is it important to include contrast in a composition?
- How can contrast be used to create unity in a design?
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Good Design Principle: Contrast — You are here
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