A color-contrast catastrophe

In my last entry I wrote about incorporating contrasts to provide dimension and depth. One of the lessons I have learned is that not all contrasts are beneficial. To be truly effective, any contrast should satisfy a definable purpose.

When I first painted the picture of my daughter costumed as a Munchkin for a school production of The Wizard of Oz, I wanted her colorful costume to stand out from a contrasting background. At that time, when I thought of contrast I thought almost exclusively of contrasting colors. I knew that green, being opposite red on the color wheel, would contrast with the red skirt, so I decided to use a green wall as the background. This seemed appropriate for the context, since an off-stage waiting room is traditionally referred to as “the green room.”

"Standing By..." with the original background

The green wall did indeed contrast with the red skirt, but the shocking value of the wall color drew attention away from the focal area rather than enhancing it.


"Standing By..." after background revision

When I realized my mistake, I applied over the entire wall a light wash of the same red that had been used in the skirt. The red wash counteracted the green, muting the overpowering intensity of the background and providing a more effective value contrast that made the wall recede and allowed the child and her costume to take center stage. In this case I discovered that the more effective contrast was one of value than of hue.

You can also find the finished painting, “Standing By in the Green Room” (#081003), in the Faces and Figures section of the Gallery.

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