A client asked about making an object in his painting stand out – he wanted it to be more dominant. The rest of his painting was full of bright, fun colors that were overwhelming the purple shape in the middle. But that shape was actually his focal point. It was drowning! And though he’d added more paint, it wasn’t getting stronger.
What to do?
Here’s the trick!
You change the contrast.
Contrast is what makes things stand out. A person wearing a red suit doesn’t stand out if everyone else in the room is also in red – but put them in a room full of people in white and bango, they pop.
Same with a quiet sound in a setting that’s silent – like when you’re trying to unwrap a cough drop in church or at a fancy concert.
When everything in a painting is loud, nothing can stand out. So something needs to be made more quiet, or muted.
Browns and purples and greys are muted colors. Instead of jumping out, they recede in space. They’re quiet.
Pastels recede, too – especially pale blue. Cool colors in general tend to recede.
Red, on the other hand, leaps forward. Reds, oranges and yellows are the hot colors.
So, my client added more red to the purple area that he wanted to be dominant.
The areas that he wanted to mute, he made neutral (brownish or grayish) by adding their complementary color. It worked beautifully!
What’s the complementary color?
Think about the color wheel. Red is opposite green, which is its complementary. Orange is the complementary of blue; yellow is the complementary of violet.
So again, if you want one area to jump out, you can make it brighter, more red.
And you can also make it seem more intense by muting the other colors around it. That’s the other way of increasing the contrast.
I’m posting this painting because I neglected to get before and after photos of his painting. So, here’s an old painting of mine that has intense reds, neutral violets and browns, and pale blues. Just the colors themselves create the sense of space.