Art Clinic: Playing With Value Contrasts

Greg Albert suggests some value contrast improvements to a pastel seascape.


Pastel is a fascinating medium because it combines aspects of both drawing and painting. Applying the pigment by using the point of the pastel stick like a pencil gives the feeling of drawing. On the other hand, applying the pastel by rubbing the side of the stick on the surface to make strokes of color is not unlike painting. In Dalgalar, the artist Suna Yazgan included elements of both drawing and painting, which enhances the attractiveness of her work.

This landscape has a convincing sense of depth because the more distant objects are smaller, less detailed and cooler in color, creating the effect of atmospheric perspective. Scanning the picture from bottom to top, gives the feeling of looking into deeper and deeper space. The viewer is pulled into the illusion of a real vista—an illusion heightened by the use of more linear strokes in the foreground.

The artist has also created an anchor for the eye as it circulates within the composition. That anchor consists of the dark and medium blue stripes in the upper left that point the eye toward the lighter waves crashing against the rock in the upper right. This directional pull keeps the viewer’s attention inside the composition.

If this were my painting, I’d be tempted to experiment with the rocks that form a triangular shape in the lower right corner. (That’s one of the advantages of working with pastel: Because it’s a dry powder, the pigment can be wiped from the surface or removed with a kneaded eraser.)

  • I would first play with the contrast along the irregular upper edge of the rocks, making the water darker against the light on the rocks.
  • Second, I would darken the area at the very corner of the paper. That area seems a bit weak, making it a possible drain for the eye to follow out of the picture. Darkening the corner would help the eye bounce back into the composition.

Greg Albert, the author of The Simple Secret to Better Painting (North Light Books, 2003,, lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Click here to read about Greg Albert and his approach to critiquing.




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