Intensity Contrast

Cheap Joe's Artist Tip: Intensity Contrast

By Skip Lawrence Adapted from The Palette Magazine
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Intensity Contrast Example 2In the last issue of Palette-able Tips I introduced you to my dog, Jazz, and used her as an example of how value contrast may be used to serve a particular purpose. My intent in "Jazz Dreams" was to feature her majestic shape, but when intentions change so must the contrast. In this painting it is my intention to express my affection for the loving nature of Jazz, a trait not uncommon to Labrador Retrievers.

To achieve this goal I have decided to use a more subtle form of contrast - contrast of intensity (a.k.a. chroma, saturation, pureness, etc.). Some students seem to have difficulty understanding color intensity so try thinking of it this way; if you add white paint to a pure color, that color appears lighter in value but not grayer of dirtier. If you add just a bit of black to the white and then mix it with the pure color it will be lighter but also dirtier, grayer, or less intense. By arranging clean, bright colors with dirty, gray colors you will achieve a contrast of intensity.

I use color intensity contrast when my idea requires subtlety and nuance. In this case, when my goal is to portray the quiet loving nature of Jazz, intensity is a better form of contrast than value. Instead of the strong image of a black dog on a white bed I create a softer, gentler, interpretation of a gray dog on a yellow bed. The values of the gray and yellow are very close, but the intensities are in obvious contrast. I intentionally put the black stripe at the bottom of this painting as a point of reference. You can see that if Jazz were painted black, like the stripe, the feeling of the image would be completely different.

Intensity Contrast Example 3Intensity is an often overlooked form of contrast that is important to any artist. Use it when you feature subtle content and your reward will be better results in your work.

Want learn more? Purchase my new Skip Lawrence's Secrets of Color videos that cover all aspects of color contrast: Value, Hue, and Intensity.

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