The Value of Contrast and Taking Risks

creative alchemy coverBefore I start talking about painting, I want to say a big

Thank you! 

to everyone who ordered my book!

If you’d like to order a copy of my book, click on the photo, use promocode 15MAY for 15% off, during check out.

And I’d like to mention a new teaching event I have scheduled next April. I’m booked to teach a full week of classes at The Smiling Turtle Art Spot in Omaha, Nebraska.

I’ll be teaching; a 2 day Tea and Ephemera workshop, followed by a 1 day Heavy Metal Play Day workshop, then a 3 day Acrylic Inks workshop. Double click on this link smiling turtle JCP for the brochure with all the info.

~ + ~ + ~ + ~ 

Now, on to painting! I have a lot of half finished painted demo pieces left over from my Painting Imagery with Textile Paints class.


The other day I pulled out these two and laid them on my table with the thought that I might touch them up with a bit of paint, then quilt them, but once I started painting I couldn’t help but take it farther.


On closer observation, I realized the blue background wasn’t painted far enough out and I also had miscellaneous dots and lines that I had drawn while demonstrating with a ruling pen that needed to be covered, not an easy fix with out adding a substantial amount of white paint to give enough opacity to cover.

primrosebwBut, I also wasn’t real happy with the color blue I had used. The value of the blue, meaning the dark or lightness of the color, especially with the primrose piece, was too close to the value of the green stem and leaves.

Turning an image into black and white, by lowering the saturation in photo editing software, is an easy way to do a value study. You can see clearly the flower petals stand out just fine, but the leaves are getting lost.

One of the things I try to impart to the students  in my textile painting class is how important contrast is. It can make the difference between just hanging in a show and winning an award.

While painting, you need to step away from your work every now and then and look at it from a distance. When you’re only a foot away you can distinguish the subtle differences in color and value easily, but may not notice that it doesn’t read well at a normal viewing distance of several feet away.


The first thing I did was push the contrast on the leaves, making the light edges lighter and the dark edges darker.primrose leaves

For the blue background, I put a blob of pure cobalt blue in my palette, to be my darkest blue and another blob of blue mixed with colorless extender for more transparency and a blob of white mixed with a tiny bit of blue for my lightest blue.

Iprimrose2 bw painted the darkest blue up against the lightest edges of the green leaves and blended it out with extender. Then painted the lightest blue up against the darkest edges of the green leaves and stems, while also blending the light and dark blues where they met.

I also darkened the edges of the petals where two petals meet with purple. Not outlining them, just darkening one edge on the petal that is behind or under another, and blending the color, becoming more transparent towards the middle of the petal.

This really pushed the values in an exaggerated way, but now there’s a lot more energy to a previously static piece.

Scroll up and back to compare the two black and white images.

primrose 2b


On the magnolia, I decided to really change up the background by painting it white, but not an even white, I wanted some of the previous blue underneath to ghost through in places.


I painted purple up next to the yellow petals and some of the leaves, to make the contrasting colors pop. I also increased the contrast along the edges of the petals, for more definition, using a transparent purple glaze over the yellow. Yellow and purple make a lovely ochre brown, so it’s a true deeper value of yellow.

Mixing in a bit of a colors compliment (it’s opposite on the color wheel), is a great way to create a shadow for a color or deeper but softer grayed hue. If you use black with yellow to make a deeper shade it will turn olive green.

Now you can see how effective strong contrast can be.


This blue is not bad in the first image by any means, I could have left the background alone, but I wanted to play a little bit with it.


Which leads me to the next important lesson:

You have to take risks!

Never let the work be too precious, be willing to screw things up! 

Otherwise, you won’t discover new ways of doing things and never learn what works and what doesn’t. I liked the magnolia with the white background, but it was too boring to leave plain, it needed to be modified or go back in the drawer.

So, I pulled out my favorite acrylic ink color; Golden brand Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold and mixed it with some colorless textile paint extender and painted a sheer glaze of pale yellow over the white background to warm it up like parchment and I put another coat or two around the outer edges, for the creamy off white color to gradate into a pale aged golden yellow around the sides. magnolia4

Then I used a sponge brush to apply full strength Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold high flow acrylic ink to my hand carved magnolia pod rubber stamp and randomly stamped pods and buds, it’s a two sided stamp. Then I stamped a some soft gray-green moths and a gray-lavender bee to finish it off.

I think the pods are a tad darker than I would have liked, but I’ll give it a couple days and see if I want to leave them as is or do something to soften them, but overall I’m satisfied.

14 Responses to “The Value of Contrast and Taking Risks”

  1. Judy Carlson says:

    Enjoyed your book! Looking forward to the next one. 🙂

  2. Sue says:

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s amazing how altering the background made these works so much MORE somehow.

  3. debikibbee says:

    the contrast in the flowers really made a huge difference, love them, they really pop out now!! Can’t wait for your class in April, if there is anything special you want to do while your here let me know and we’ll make it happen.

  4. Barvara says:

    thank you for this contrast lesson! I love your book too!

  5. Sandy Smith says:

    Love, love, love your colorful paintings! I was in the process of ordering your book with the 20% Blurb discount, however the site states that only the author of a book is entitled to a discount. Has anyone else had problems with this?

  6. The white background is much more interesting. How did you stamp so precisely that one image of the pod to make it look like it is behind the stem?

    • actually it is stamped right over the top, but because the stem is really dark the stamp doesn’t show. Worked out quite nicely, lol. I would have cut a strip of paper to lay over the stem and mask it before stamping to accomplish that if the stem was a light color though.

  7. Clare Hunter says:

    This is great Judy, because I am “color-challenged” this lesson is really helpful. I knew contrast was important, and now with all our great tech tools, it’s easy to take a picture and work with it in photoshop. I signed up for pixel ladies class, hope to learn how to use it better.

    • judycoatesperez says:

      Hi Claire, I’m glad your’e going to take their class, I’ve heard it’s really helpful. 🙂

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