While I was doing a little extra credit homework for my upcoming Color Confidence workshop, I came across some examples of simultaneous contrast that I wasn’t as familiar with. Well actually, that I’d never seen before! So I thought I’d share! The first one was designed by physicist/chemist, Robert Shapely and psychologist, James Gordon.

The second one was designed by Michael White. I don’t know what Michael does! I think both of these illustrations are excellent examples of the concept of simultaneous contrast. Simply put, everything is relative. What is light in one context is dark in another. You might be a tall person in your family, but unless you are a family of basketball players, chances are that you’d be small or pretty average amongst a team of them.

This is the way all things in painting work!  It’s funny how painting is always a great analogy for what’s going on in the larger scheme of things. I suppose this is true for any discipline. Because color, and therefore value is interpreted by our brains, a single color can shift and change depending on what is adjacent to it.

I can’t tell you how much this informs my painting! I have had to train my eye to really see things relatively. Our brains want to just generalize and put everything into little compartments so we can make sense of the visual information bombarding us. That’s all good when we are just walking around navigating the grocery store, but when it comes to interpreting and making an accurate estimation of a value when we are painting, that’s a whole other ball game. So, we have to practice. We have to take into account things like simultaneous contrast, color constancy and color relativity. All stuff that I cover in my Color Confidence workshops and DVD! I want to be able to accurately depict value and color in my paintings.

Now that doesn’t mean that I’m always going to use local color or realistic color. For me it means that I am going to make choices that will convey my idea. If I want to depict a night scene with the moon shining, I need to choose color very differently than depicting the same composition in bright sunlight. I don’t want to be flailing around when it comes to my choices! This is where the idea of your skills meeting up with your imagination comes into play. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite get there, but I do feel that the longer I paint, the wider the possibilities become for executing an idea.

With Warmest Regards,


Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

Recent Minilessons

Follow Us

Sign Up For Minilessons

Be the first to know when a new miniliesson and new courses are released!

Scroll to Top