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In what way is dark and light colour used?

The darkness or lightness of a colour is termed its tone or its colour value. A colour’s value is increased, or lightened, by adding white or another lighter colour to it. A colour’s value is decreased, or darkened, by adding black or a darker colour to it.

Colour value is one of the most powerful aspects of form that can be used by an artist to create visual contrast in a painting. It can have considerable impact on the spectator, both by suggesting particular emotions and moods and by encouraging the spectator to read a painting in a certain way.

When exploring colour value in an artwork, the following general question can be asked: ‘In what way is colour value used?’ This question can be subdivided into several further questions, three of which are explored below:

How wide is the range of colour values featuring in the artwork? What is the effect of this?

The breadth of the value range in a painting can be effective in helping to convey mood. For example, the use of mostly dark colour values can make a painting appear gloomy and sombre, whereas the use of middle-range colour values can convey softness and harmony. The use of mostly light colour values in Afrodizzia (Plate 7) seems to give a cheerful feel.

Are contrasting colour values placed adjacent to each other? What is the effect of this?

The greater the contrast between light and dark colour values in one area, the more attention that area will attract. Contrasts between light and dark values can also be used to convey drama and excitement in a painting.

How are the colour values distributed throughout the artwork? What is the effect of this?

Concentrating most of the light values in one area of the composition and most of the dark values in another can be effective in emphasising one area of an artwork over the rest. When light and dark values are placed adjacent and are distributed evenly throughout the artwork, this can give the composition a sense of ‘movement’, causing the eye to move from place to place rather than focusing on one particular area.

In Afrodizzia (Resource booklet [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   Plate 7), while light and mid values tend to dominate much of the composition, helping to convey a positive energetic feel, the dark values that are present in the tiny faces that punctuate the composition add additional interest and cause the spectator to pay extra attention to these areas of the work.