Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Counterchange

Counterchange is the reversal of tonal relationships between a form and its background which occurs from one end of the form to another.

You see this most often when a tree trunk appears light against its surroundings near the ground, and then switches to become darker than the sky higher up.

Ted Kautzky, a watercolor and pencil instructor from the mid-20th Century, used it on the tree trunk and on the bannister railing in this black and white drawing.

I exaggerated the effect of counterchange when I painted this view of Segovia. Clouds were passing over the scene, throwing sections of the city in and out of shadow. I tried to capture the moment when the top of the tower fell into shadow, while the middle section remained in light. I then adjusted the sky tones lighter or darker to bring out the contrast.


Here’s a detail of a painting by Bouguereau. The masses of foliage switch from light-against-dark at left to dark-against-light at right. At the dividing line in the center where the changeover takes place, the definition of the leaves is deliciously amorphous and painterly.


Counterchange can take place along an edge, as it does along this roofline. (Incidentally, I was also thinking of the Windmill Principle, mentioned on an earlier post. I’ve marked the other two “vanes”: next to the sections where they appear.)

Counterchange doesn’t always have to be a complete reversal of tones. Arthur Streeton gets a striking effect on this painting by switching from a dark-against-light silhouette at the top to a light-against-light relationship at the right of the picture. In a strange way the result is more satisfying than if he had contrived a dark cloud behind that illuminated section of the building.

Tomorrow: Art By Committee

7 comments:

Pyracantha said...

I love this blog. I visit it every day and always get inspired.
I also love that little red cabin. I would like to spend some time there, just by myself.

Arco Scheepen said...

You have sought out some great examples to clarify this. Great post!
Cheers,
Arco

Drew said...

This is something that always mystifies me, because until you mentioned it in your blog regarding the windmill principal, I've noticed it crop up everywhere I look.

I wonder though, is this an actual tonal change, or is it a perception trick, like having the same color against a dark color background and a light color background, so the value of it looks drastically different when placed side by side? You know it's the same color, but they still look like different shades! I noticed that the Bouguereau painting seems to have this kind of principle to it, whereas the others look as if they well placed shadows to signify the change.

James Gurney said...

Drew, you raise a really interesting point, and one that I often wonder about when I'm looking at a streetlight pole or something in real life. Surely the pole must be evenly lit and the same value, but as the background shifts behind it, it really looks darker against the sky. I suppose the same holds true in a painting: you could make a form seem to change in value purely by what you put around it.

In painting I know I consciously "push" the effect, and in the examples of the roofline and the tree trunk I made changing mixtures on both the subject and the background.

James Gurney said...

Drew, you raise a really interesting point, and one that I often wonder about when I'm looking at a streetlight pole or something in real life. Surely the pole must be evenly lit and the same value, but as the background shifts behind it, it really looks darker against the sky. I suppose the same holds true in a painting: you could make a form seem to change in value purely by what you put around it.

In painting I know I consciously "push" the effect, and in the examples of the roofline and the tree trunk I made changing mixtures on both the subject and the background.

Emily said...

This is really helpful, and it's everywhere when you start looking for it!

Katherine Thomas said...

This is exactly what I needed on the drawing that I'm currently working on! Your posts are easy to understand and so relevant to what artists need to know.