Project 3 – Exercise 1: Exploring Contrast

About simulataneuous and successive contrast: effect of an inducing fields onto a test patch. The higher the saturation of the test field the stronger the effect.

Comparing visual colour perception of juxtaposed colours close to each other:




=> Colour perception is strongly impacted by the surrounding space. Close  to each colours are muting each other. The complementary colour of the surrounding frame is induced onto the inner square. This mutes similar to a light mix with the complementary colour. Here the tonal contrast has a strong impact.

Comparing visual colour perception of juxtaposed colours close to each other and impact of tonal value differences:




=> tonal difference enhance the contrast and chroma/saturation perception. Juxtaposition of close colours with similar tonal value results in a higher muting/cancelling effect compared to higher tonal contrasts.

Comparing visual colour perception of complementary colours with same tonal values and impact of middle grey field:



=> the middle grey is perceived with a hue shift into the direction of the complementary colour of the surrounding frame (inducing).

Comparing visual colour perception of complementary colours and impact of tonal values differences:



Further exploration of contrasts:

Sequence of color fields.

Interaction of colours close to each other and complementary colours.  Approximate similar tonal values across the squares.

Tonal difference between blue and violet makes the blue lighter. The complementary red-orange and blue makes both brighter. The violet makes the green greener (less blue, more yellow).

The image below take with a camera and careful correction of white balance does show the limitations of a camera to simulate visual perception of the naked eye. Actually the inner red-orange it the same as the outer red-orange. You would not believe this. The inner square is so luminous and punchy.



Comparing left and right side of a bottle with background and variety in tonal values.

  • Left side: orange background with blue-violet bottle (complementary)
  • Right side: green background with blue bottle (close to each colours) and red cap

The left side of the bottle is clearly emphasised and moving forward where the saturation of the background is the highest. The right side is moving backwards. The red cap is emphasised on the right side.



Trying to match color perception

A desaturated red – a violet – a blue. Trying to keep tonal values similar.

  • Top row: same violet field on both sides
  • Bottom row: adjusted violet field with ultramarine blue (to adjust hue short towards red and a lighter tonal value shift)

The blue background makes the violet more reddish and lighter compared with red background.

After adjusting those shifts the perceived hue and tonal values of the inner field with blue background matches visually the violet with red background.

(camera image with constraints)


Contextual research:

With some exercises made I got a better understanding and appreciation of the paintings by Josef Albers (1888 – 1976). Although I feel that those paintings are very formal in their compositional elements with sharp and accurate edges. Quite different compared to the work by Mark Rothko (Schaffeld, weblog post 28 Feb 2016). I do think that the repetitive composition with multi color variants do provide a good understanding of colour perception of fine deviations in tonal value and hues.
Comparing the following two paintings:
– ‘Homage to the Square‘, 1964
oil on masonite (40.6 × 40.6 cm)
[online image] Available from:

– ‘Study for Homage to the Square (Autumn Scent / Smell)‘, 1966
oil on masonite (40.6 × 40.6 cm)
[online image] Available from:
=> These two paintings show the influence of saturation and hue while maintaining approx similar tonal values. Due to simultaneous contrasts the perception of hue, chroma, and value are changing.

One example of a translation of the colour theories of Chevreul and Newton’s color discs is done by Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979). She talks about her painting ‘‘Prism électriques’ as ‘simultaneous painting’. There are visible disc shapes like in some of the painting by her husband Robert Delaunay (e.g. ‘Formes circularise‘, 1930) inspired by observation from nature, Chevrel’s color theory and Newton’s experiments with ‘rings’ (Gage, 2007). Colours and complementary colour juxtaposed on circular rings with high saturation of the colours.
‘Prism électriques (Electric Prisms) ‘, 1913
Oil on canvas (56 x 47 cm)
[online image] Available from:   [accessed 16 June 2016]



Good examples of the visual perception of complementary colours and with similar tonal values are the two paintings by Claude Monet (1840 -1926) ‘Poppy Field (Argenteuil)‘, 1873 and ‘Impression Sunrise‘, 1873. In both works the small colour blots (orange sun versus a blue greyish sky; orange red poppies in green field) seems to pulsate due to effect of simultaneous contrast.


  • Colour perception is subject to simultaneous contrast of juxtaposed colours. It depends on tonal values contrast, hue contrast, and saturation (chroma).
  • The surrounding colour induces the complementary colour onto the inner field. This effect is stronger when the outer colour is more saturated.
  • I feel that tonal values contrast has the strongest impact. I assume it is because the human eye has separate receptors for colour (the three cones) and lightness (the rods).
  • Hue contrast becomes more pulsing when tonal values are close to each other.
  • Successive colour contrast impact perception of one colour depending on surrounding space. To match colours in different areas with same perception one need to adjust it to counterbalance hue and tonal values shifts and at times even saturations shift.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: