Monday, May 11, 2009

Tonal Focus

Here are two ink wash drawings of a picturesque street scene. They’re very similar. There’s an upper and a lower arch. The light is coming from the upper left in both scenes, and the figures are all in the same places.

As you look at both pictures, do you find your attention is attracted to a different part of each picture? What is different about them?

Arthur Guptill, in his book Color in Sketching and Rendering, provides this example to show how tonal arrangement can help create a focal area.

His purpose with the picture at left is to draw the eye to the upper arch by means of strong lighting and punchy contrast. The second picture has the tonal focus on the lower arch.

I found that my eye moved the way he intended, but I may have been influenced by his discussion in the book. How did it work for you?

24 comments:

Drew said...

Pretty much the same result for me, and I didn't read what the intention was until after.

It works regardless of influence, just because eyes are attracted to high contrast areas. I might have to pick up this book to check it out.

greyskyeyes said...

You always have the best book suggestions. Thanks!

Susan Adsett said...

Yep, my eye focused just the way he wanted - and before I finished reading the post, I picked the "archway" focused one as the stronger composition as well - perhaps because the focal point was at eye level. Great tip!

Thomas Denmark said...

Worked exactly as planned, for me.

Thanks for the book recommendation, I didn't know about that one.

His other book, Rendering in Pen and Ink is also a classic - one of the best books on composition ever written.

Pat said...

The movement of my eye was like a backwards letter c in both pictures.

I would start at the top for the first pic, and the bottom for the second one.

jean said...

Worked like that for me, too.

However, my gaze tended to get stuck on the upper arch on the left picture. On the right picture, I tended to look around more. Maybe the upper arch dominates (simplicity? position at top of the image?) whether light or dark, so having it dark and the bottom part of the picture illuminated balances out the illustration as a whole.

jean said...

Worked like that for me, too. - I mean, brighter areas attracted my attention.

Leah Waichulis said...

Really helpful, thanks for posting. I studied the image first before reading and it worked as intended for me too. It's interesting how the contrast is higher not only at the intended focal point but the surrounding areas that lead to it.

dragonladych said...

Same here. And right after the arches, my eye was drawn towards the cart under the lower arch in the first drawing and towards the figures in the foreground in the second drawing.
Great exercise! I need to do more of this!

Erik Bongers said...

If the idea is to bring the focus to the people rather than the arch, the composition seems not very effective.
As said by others: the first image seems stronger, but the arch dominates.
So the second picture seems like a bad attempt to bring the focus to the people in a composition that doesn't really allow for that.

Lesson learned: if in a finished piece, the focus seems wrong, you may still be able to fix it (more or less) by putting a spotlight on the intended focus point.
But it's a kludge nevertheless!

colin said...

It works, Mr. Gurney, even before I had read your post. Then again, maybe I've been influenced by all those years of being told that the eye is drawn to high contrast areas. ;-)

Maria said...

very interesting and solid proof of the importance of composition! I don't quite agree Erik though. I think the right is a better composition solely because it still has focus at the horizon but works well as a whole. Composition 1 seems strangely skewed to the right corner, and my eye feels always drawn to it when I have the desire to take in the whole scene. But I guess that could just be me/personal preference. Anyhow you didn't ask for which we thought was better compositionally but just thought I would throw that in anyhow!:) Great blog!

Cheryl said...

I'm so glad I didn't rush to read the rest of your post before taking a good look at the pictures. Worked for me as planned too.

acaminante said...

Left: my eye went to the shadow just above the bottom arch on the left

Right: the exact opposite effect, my eye went to the top because of the lack of contrast.

Shawn Escott said...

In the left example, I think the top arch and bottom arch are competing. The top has more contrast but the bottom has all of the lines leading the eye to the focal point. I'm stuck admiring the architecture. I think the right example is better conceived because all of the elements of the design, the top left shadow, the canopy, the edges of the road, and the figures, are all leading the eye to the focal point. And having the contrast on the bottom arch compels me to want to follow the traveler through the archway. I suppose it depends on the desired effect.

badbot said...

It worked the same for me.

Concerning the image at right, for me it's a global scene, dealing with quite neutral action. The scenery, the arch are the real protagonist.
In the second one, it's a more storytelling image to me. we are more involved with what is going on the street, we are part of the people walking by. we can wonder who is this mysterious silhouette under the arch...

it's a personal sensibility question, but i prefer the second one.

Pete said...

It worked as intended for me as well. However, it took a little longer to get to the focal point in the first picture. In the second, I snapped right to it. I have no idea why though!

E Colquhoun said...

I saw it exactly the same way as you did.

r8r said...

I was always told that, depending on other factors, to reserve my highest contrasts for the areas I wanted the viewer to see.

This is a good illustration of that!

BOKY said...

It worked exactly as it should...high contrast definitely draws the eye in, it almost "irritates". Thanks for the tip!:)

Jean Spitzer said...

Top arch and bottom arch, just as apparently intended.

Michael Pieczonka said...

These looked like two completely different pictures to me when I first looked at them.. because my eye went to two different spots I would guess.

angelmax said...

Hello James,
while I get the same result as the one you are suggesting I tend to consider the LEFT to be more consistent, believable. Unless in the right you may justify the lighter color of the top arch I would feel like there is fog or smoke bleaching-out its view. Besides that I really appreciate such concrete example of this technique which could really drive the observer's eye where the author needs it to be.

Thank you for your always stimulating writings.

Max

Marty Murphy said...

Guptill has more successful examples of using emphasis in his Pen and Ink.