The Power of Contrast

EXAMPLES OF HIGH CONTRAST: Left, dark subject against light background. Right, light subject against dark background. © Marjorie Sarnat. Original line art illustration is from Creative Cats.

EXAMPLES OF HIGH CONTRAST: Left, dark subject against light background. Right, light subject against dark background. © Marjorie Sarnat. Original line art illustration is from Creative Cats.

High Contrast Creates Drama and Commands Attention

Contrast in a composition refers to its darks and lights, regardless of its colors. For example, the color blue can be so dark it appears almost black or so light it appears almost white. In art, the degree of darkness or lightness of a color is called its value. A color can be any degree of dark to light. There are many values between the darkest dark and the lightest light.

Black and white create the highest contrast of values because they show extreme dark against extreme light (or extreme light against extreme dark.). Any dark color against any light color has high contrast, too.

Use contrast to create drama and command attention in a work of art. The eye is immediately drawn to areas of high contrast, so you can use that to your advantage by deciding what your center of interest is to be. In addition, within the cat figures, I employed high contrast in the eyes by placing the only pure white in the highlights against the black pupils.

Try using one of these formulas, although it doesn’t have to be exact: 
 * ¾ of darker value colors with ¼ lighter value colors
or
* ¾ lighter value colors with ¼ darker value colors

Add other values for variety and accents. Artworks that employ darks and lights have drama.