How does Contrast work in a watercolour painting?

Also discussed as chiaroscuro or conflict, contrast creates interest with opposing factors such as dark juxtaposed to light; near contrasting to far; smooth adjacent to rough; fat contrasting to thin; bright hues against neutrals, hard edges against soft edges.

Chiaroscuro aka contrast, alternation and conflict
Chiaroscuro aka contrast, alternation and conflict

Without contrast a painting can be pretty dull!

In your focal area, where you want to attract the most attention, grasp contrast with both hands and take advantage of it’s full effects.

The purpose of the checkerboard is to illustrate to you the effect of the darkest dark against the lightest light, not meaning you should have a checkerboard in your painting. It draws the eye and won’t let it go. In the checkerboard figure you can also see the hard lines are pulling your eyes.

So what can we learn from this?

To make the greatest level of visual impact, particularly in the focal area, every artwork we create must include chiaroscuro via placing complementary colours next to each other, juxtaposing hard lines with soft ‘lines’, lightest light against the darkest dark.

chiarascuro neutral yellow
chiarascuro with complementary colours

Part of my thinking while I’m painting must be: “I’m using blue here, so I’ll place it’s complementary yellow/orange next to it. I’ve got a lovely neutral muddy grey so i’ll place a block of saturated colour next to it. I’ve got a lovely white/light space here, I’ll put a super dark right next to it to enhance my composition.”

When designing your painting, consider using just one form of contrast as a dominant factor for your painting.


using only harmonious colours such as reds, yellows and oranges, what forms of contrast could you use in your artwork?


using only browns, oranges, blacks and greys, what forms of contrast would you use in this artwork?

happy painting!!
Copyright 2009-2015 All images and text on Amanda’s blog and website are the legal property of Amanda Brett and may not be reproduced without express permission, thanks for respecting my art and creativity.


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