The Seven Principles of Design: Contrast

Written for ART.HOME.SOUL in 2015

Without contrast, life would be boring. In fact, what makes anything interesting at all is how relatively different it is from other things. Painting one wall black in an otherwise white room suddenly makes the space divisive and interesting, and using different materials in home décor such as metal and wood creates contrast of texture. Contrast keeps things interesting and unexpected, which is what art is all about!

Contrast refers to the juxtaposition of opposing elements in a work of art. Most people think of tone or value when they think of contrast, but in reality, a work of art can have more than one type of contrast, whether its color, direction, shape or texture. Contrast is merely opposites at work, making things look different from one another. For example, the image above not only shows contrast of color, but also shows contrast of direction.

Contrast also naturally creates emphasis and allows people to easy visual navigation.

Since contrast grabs attention and adds visual interest, the areas with the most contrast are automatically the focal point of the painting. However, be wary of how you use contrast. Too little can make a composition monotonous, bland, and uninteresting. Too much can destroy unity and make a painting confusing.
Look around your home, a restaurant or hotel. How did the designer use contrast? Did they only contrast colors, or did they contrast other elements, such as shape and texture? If something is different, it stands out, which is why contrast is a beautiful thing.

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