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Value Contrast


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I thought I'd throw together a little thread on the subject of contrast.  Everyone raise your hands if you're been told you need more contrast.  Don't worry, my hand is up, too.


Contrast is one of those things we hear a lot, but because there are so many meanings of the word, it can be confusing.  We can achieve contrast in many ways.  And all of them are important.  The best pieces we see out there probably use all of them.  Some of types of contrast are easier to see than others.  I'm hoping by showing a few examples, I can help you guys get a handle on how to improve.  Remember that even those of us who've been painting for awhile still have to think and work on our contrast.


Types of contrast:

Light/Dark or Value

Color- complementary, temperature, saturation




As a general rule, I feel like the hardest for new painters to grasp is Value or Light/Dark contrast.  It's also my personal favorite, so I tend to harp on it a lot in classes. 


Value in regards to color theory is defined as range from dark to light, often using a numerical scale. It has nothing to do with hue (or color.)  White is high value.  Black is low value.





In this case, on the left you can see a grayscale example of a very dark value at 0, and a very light value at 9.  Just like in Star Wars, there can be no light without shadow.  We need the Dark Side of the Force just as much as the Light Side or we wouldn't have a very good storyline.  If everything in our painting is the same value, or we fail to include very dark or very light areas, the result will lack contrast.


Here's an example of the in-progress cloud giantess I did the other year:




Here I'm using a blue-yellow color scheme.  There does appear to be some contrast in the color- the blue and yellow areas are distinct, but when you remove the color and look at the same image in grayscale, the contrast disappears.




In fact if you look close the blue and gold are exactly the same value.  Can you see how this example lacks value contrast?  Do you see a difference between the armor and the leg?  To me, they blend together.  So while I had different colors, I failed to also vary my light-dark.  I realized this part way through my painting process and helped correct it, so the final was better. But, I hope that goes to show that we all struggle with this in painting.


This brings me to my favorite sneaky trick.  I recommend constantly taking black and white photos of your minis.  You'll start to see value in whole new "light" :lol: Whenever I am in doubt or feel like something is off on my piece, I'll do this.  


The other thing to remember is that value is relative. 




In this example, the bar in the middle is actually the same value.




See?  But because I've put it next to a dark area and a light area, it appears to change.  In practice, this means if you put something light next to something dark, you get more contrast. 




I do this a lot in monochrome painting. The arrows point to areas of light nest to dark in both a grayscale and a sepia test mini.   The old masters were really good at this whole value thing.  If you feel like doing some research, look up Chiaroscuro.  




In this example from Caravaggio, only the areas the artist wants us to focus on are light.  There is a huge range of value in the painting from light to dark.  This is maximized contrast.  Like contrast on steroids.  That's what were looking for, right? Mine goes to 11!


Well, sort of.  So here the hard part.  When we say we need to see more contrast we're not just telling your to go up to white and down to black in every single area of the entire miniature.  That in an of itself would ALSO lack contrast, but in a more subtle kind of way.  If everyone in a room is a blonde supermodel, none of them would really stand out from a distance.  They're all the too similar.  If I bombard your eye with a thousand tiny highlights, the effect may even be off-putting.  BUT, some areas should have higher contrast.  Places like the face should be lighter, to draw attention to it.  Areas I want you to see first, I need to paint with the highest contrast.  This sort of gets more into the concept of composition, and this sort of planning takes a lot more thought.  Does that make sense?


Let's get back to some practical examples.




I grabbed some colors to try to illustrate some of the traps we might fall into.  Let's paint some skin.




Here's my test bones using the purple as a shadow and the ocher as a highlight for the green.  I love purple and yellow- they're complementary colors so naturally will give me some contrast.  Looks ok, right?  Looks like skin.  Has some highlights, etc etc.




oops. Where did my contrast go?!  Yes, there are so shadows and some highlights, but it looks a lot flatter and more boring.  While we can use color to do some really fun effects, we still have to obey the grand Rule of Value.




Ok, so I've added some of the ivory.  I'm getting a little more contrast.




Better.  Much better.




Here the same picture in grayscale.  Can you see the rounded forms of the muscles better? That's what we're going for in terms of light and dark.  


Notice in this example I used an off black- nightmare black.  For skin?!  Heck, only one of the colors I chose has the word "skin" in it, and none of them are on the same reaper triad.  This is because I know I need to push my highlights and shadows beyond what the triads can do.  I may go up close to white, but remember that adding white to a color washes it out. To use another color theory term, it desaturates the color and we lose a lot of information about what that color was.  




In this example, I used yellow for most of my highlights. I'll go see if I can find some older examples of where I used white instead. 


I hope this helps a little to explain. I'll try to get together some more examples, but feel free to hit me with questions.  Hugs!










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