Friday, September 11, 2009

Art Question: How do you make paintings that look dimensional?

What a great question from Carol V. How do you make paintings that look so dimensional? The key is contrast and edges.

Why contrast? Contrast is the tool used to create separation of shapes in a painting. Two shapes next to each other that are in great contrast will separate from each other and create a sense of space. Two shapes next to each other that do not have much contrast will not separate from each other and the sense of space between them will be minimized.

What does that mean?

Let's look at this cabbage painting as an example.
The cabbage seems to have volume and shape. Each leaf appears in front or behind another leaf. This is done by overlapping shapes, but it becomes convincing when you use contrast properly.

In the detail of three layers of the leaves, you can see that the leaves in the background are all darker than the leaf in front of them. The leaf in the center of the detail has a white edge at the top that is in contrast to the darker bodies of the background leaves. The central leaf then darkens as it approaches the two leaves in the front, at the bottom. This creates contrast with the lighter edges of the leaves in front. In this manner space is created, by using contrast between shapes.

Of course, contrast can only happen at an edge shared by two shapes. The stronger the contrast, the stronger the edge. There are edges within each leaf created by the veins. But the contrast and edges between the veins and the leaf are softer than the hard edges between two leaves.

This is the main way in which I create a sense of depth or dimension: by carefully creating or diminishing contrast at edges. There are other techniques you can use to enhance a sense of space, but that is for another time. If you check out the images in my gallery, or other paintings, you will begin to notice this wherever there is a strong sense of space.

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