Developing Contrast

ScalesI promised you that I would go over the specifics of developing visual interest in a two dimensional piece of artwork, So here we go.

There are three types of marks you can make on a two dimensional surface: points, lines and planes. There are several ways that you can make variations in these marks. For points you can vary the weight, making the point lighter or darker on the page. With line you can achieve a much greater amount of variety. You can change the weight ,as with the points, but you can also change the linetype, making the line organic, using lots of curving forms, or keep the line geometric in nature using sharp angles. You can also vary the regularity of the line, on one end regular lines, which tend to have a repeating pattern, or alternately a pattern that changes in a predictable way.  At the other end of the spectrum are irregular lines which look more like a scribble. and you can vary your lines on both of these dimensions at the same time giving you and of the variety that your pencil has.

The last mark that can be made in two dimensions in the plane, and there are three ways to describe a plane: the type, the regularity and size. The primary difference between a plane and a line is obviously that the plane is enclosed whereas the line is open, and so the same rules that govern line variety apply to plane variety.

So now up until now we have been talking about works that are primarily monochromic and line based. When you expand your view out to other types of visual elements you discover two other means of generating contrast: Texture and color. Texture is kind of hard to describe despite being a very simple concept. When you break it down it’s clear that texture is simply a building up of points, lines, or shapes until they are no longer distinguishable from each other and they for a new shape that posses the texture of the underlying points, lines, or shapes.

Color requires a lot less explanation, except to say that there is as much variety in this one aspect of design as there is in all the marks described above. There are so many different qualities that color can communicate that it deserves it own post to better elaborate. But to summarize the basics… Color can be adjusted on three basic scales: Hue (Red, blue, Green, etc.), Saturation (how intense or muted the color is) , and Tone (lighter or darker). Using color you can make a large shape feel small and small shape seem loud, you can direct or misdirect the viewer’s attention using only color if you so choose.

In a similar way you can manipulate the viewers attention with texture, making an uninteresting shape feel busy, and controlling the texture can give your piece a rhythm of busy a calm areas. And as you might imagine, since texture is merely a building up of points, lines, and planes, the same thing is true of these other marks.Now the point of describing these rules these rules is not to limit the way in which you create your art, but the exact opposite. We describe the many way you can control you marks and shapes so that you can better understand the ways that you can develop contrast in artwork.

The point of developing contrast is, in part, to give the piece a solid base of interest. Another reason this contrast is an advantage is that you can use the contrast to inform the viewer. Inform them of some message you are trying to communicate, yes, but also to inform them of where you want them you look. You can use the shapes themselves to lead the viewers gaze and by doing so tell them what is most important. This tool is especially necessary when you are dealing with representational artwork, like a Landscape, it may not be immediately obvious to someone not familiar with you work, what the subject matter is, and using the physical layout and qualities of your forms is a great way to tell them where they should look.

Like I said in the first post on two dimensional design, these rules are not set in stone, and if you find that following them stifles you ability to create, than by all means ignore them. But I would encourage you to take these rules and use them, especially as you are finishing a piece. Consider the way you have used line weight  color, texture, shape. Is there enough variety? Is there any significant variety? Is every portion of the piece accounted for? Is every portion of the piece uniformly detailed? The answers to these questions can be yes or no as you please. But it is important that you are conscience of the decisions you are making as a creator. There should be no part of you artwork that is incidental. That is to say each element should have been considered. If someone asks you why you chose to make a mark some where or why a shape is a particular color, you should know and if you don’t know, you should think about it next time.

And that’s my take on developing contrast.


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