Contrasts in drawing

Contrast is instinctively understood as the balance between dark and light values. But while drawing it can take several other forms, that will help maximizing the effect of the composition.

I would define drawing [...], really as organization and expression of relationships.
— Craig Mullins, Interview

There are many ways of creating contrasts, among them:

Valentin Serov - Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova, sketch and final painting.
Valentin Serov - Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova. On the left side, several contrasts help identify how the painting will turn out. The hat is darker than the fur, which is darker than the dress. The Princess is mostly curvy lines, while the background is made of straight lines. Clothing creates hard edges, while the face has soft edges. | Full size

Painters use drawing sketches as roadmaps, where relationships inform both the artistic intention, but also the practical way of achieving this intention, in the final painting.

Points to remember:

  1. Contrasts exist to reinforce the composition by creating relationships between elements.
  2. Contrasts is not just the difference between dark and light values, but several other things that depend on the medium used to draw or paint.
  3. Thinking in relationships is good to translate artistic intention, but also has practical benefits, like indirectly creating a roadmap for a more fleshed out piece done later.

Initially published: June 5th, 2022
Generated: March 3rd, 2023