Contrast: Color, Value and Texture

Enjoying the Sunlight (pastel) by Ida M. Glazier grabs the viewer’s eye for several reasons: good use of light and dark color contrast, a solid composition and excellent use of texture.

The illusion of strong sunlight is a product of the artist’s use of strong contrast in color and value. Light, warm colors on top of the cat’s neck and back in conjunction with cooler violets on its front and legs creates a convincing sense of sunlight bathing the animal.

Both the post and the cat—including cat’s shadowed areas—are drawn in lighter and warmer colors in contrast to the cool, dark background. The blues and greens of the background make the cat and post stand out and enhance the impression of warm, bright sunlight striking the subject. Once again, the contrast strengthens the composition by balancing warm colors with cool colors as well as light values with dark values.

The dark around cat’s face, the most detailed part of the picture, establishes the face as a strong focal point. The cat’s facial profile has strong angular shapes set against the darkest values in the composition. The whiskers, the only fine lines in the picture, also attract attention to this area. The cat’s eye, a touch of cool color, is a natural visual magnet that makes the face both a focal point and the center of interest. Readers of my earlier critique, Focal Point vs. Center of Interest may remember that a focal point attracts the viewers’ eyes, while a center of interest attracts the viewers’ mind.

Besides value and color contrast, Glazier used textural contrast effectively. She contrasts smooth against rough, soft against hard and sharp against dull, making the painting more convincing and realistic, as well as more interesting. Pastels are well suited for creating textural effects because the medium is dry and particulate (powdery), giving the artist a lot of control. This control allows the artist to select just the right strokes and degree of blending to create many different textures.

The texture of the cat’s fur appears smooth and soft because the artist used smooth strokes that follow the form of the cat’s body curves. Parallel vertical strokes with short horizontal striations create the woody texture of a post stripped of bark and weathered with age. The blending of the foliage in the background makes that area appear out of focus and distant. Squiggly accents suggest the jagged edges of leaves in sunlight.

I feel there are two opportunities for improvement. First, the visual activity is a bit lopsided to the left of the composition. A few more of the warmer hints in the foliage would help provide a subtle balance. Second, the tip of the tail needs some suggestion of its roundness so it doesn’t look like a dark hole in the middle of the picture.

Despite these relatively minor considerations, the Glazier’s effective use of color, tonal value, and textural contrast makes Enjoying the Sunlight, a truly sunny work.

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Artwork for the Art Clinic is chosen from work posted on the Artists Network message board. (You must log on as a registered member to view and post on the Art Clinic forum.)

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