Skip Lawrence: Expressions of Contrast

Color contrasts come in three basic forms: value contrasts (such as dark against light), contrasting hues (such as complementary reds against greens), and contrasts in intensity (such as bright against neutral). Of course, you can’t use all of these together without creating an overly dramatic and strident painting. On the other hand, it?s important to note at this point that few paintings are done using just one type of contrast. Often an artist introduces small areas of another kind of contrast as a counterpoint.

Balcony View (watercolor, 22×30)

More than any other type, value contrasts grab the viewer?s eye. Value contrasts are descriptive. That is, they mimic the way light and shadow describe form and volume. So if you want to re-create the visual truth of an object or person–the mass of a mountain, the weight of a locomotive, the strength of a bull or the full, round volume of a head–are perfect subjects for employing value contrasts.

Dark Gold (watercolor, 22×30)

In many ways, contrasts in hue are the polar opposite of value contrasts. While value contrasts describe a subject, contrasts in hue are expressive-?they say more about your emotional response to a subject.

Contrasts in Intensity are based on the juxtaposition of pure color against neutral color. For example, Turner illuminated the sun in his paintings not by making the sun light in value against a darker sky, but rather by using clear intense hues to represent the sun, then surrounding it with neutral, dirty colors.

Every culture and generation defines art for itself. As artists we have the option to either follow or lead in this process. Talent, environment, interest, scholarship, good libraries and museums are essential to the development of each and every one of us. In these we find our traditions and identify our potential. But these are only starting points. In my view, each artist has the obligation to look beyond the conventions of his or her time, avoid the temptation to be hip or eccentric, and discover those things that are genuinely their own.

Dean Mitchell received his formal art training at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. His work, which deals with the universal themes of life, death, family and psychological and spiritual revelations has appeared in numerous publications and can be found in private, corporate and museum collections across the United States. Mitchell works in oil, watercolor, egg tempera and pastel, and his paintings have garnered a number of regional and national awards, including the top prize in the 1999 Arts for the Parks competition. Mitchell currently lives in Overland Park, Kansas.

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