Using counterchange to good effect

With the current heatwave hitting the British Isles I reckon it’s rather nice to remind ourselves of those lovely cooling days of English drizzle. I’ve been working on sunny landscapes recently and will feature some in future blogs, but for the moment I’d like to discuss counterchange, an interesting feature that someone brought up recently.

Hackney

Counterchange in a landscape scene is a very effective way of adding interest to a passage or solving a tonal problem. At its simplest it could be a change in tone across a ridge, hill, forest, mountain, or any background mass to create a tonal range running from light on one side to dark on the other, while at the same time adjusting the sky in a similar way so that the dark part of the sky stands against the light part of the hill, and vice versa. In this watercolour of a cobbled street in Hackney you can see I’ve used the method vertically on the right-hand wall just to the right of the lampost.

In this instance I’ve included it for interest rather than to solve a problem. Where the method is extremely useful in solving a tonal problem can be, for example, where you have a house with a light-coloured wall set against a dark background: if the roof is dark it will get lost in the dark background, and if it is light it will lose itself against the light wall. By laying a graduated wash over the roof, darker at the bottom and graduating to a lighter top where the roof abuts the darker background, you can thus make both top and bottom of the roof stand out, thus causing a counterchange effect using the graduated wash. One of the most simple examples of counterchange can often be found on telegraph poles or winter tree-trunks where they show up light against dark vegetation at the bottom, and dark against the bright sky at the top, depending on the light of course.

This particular painting is featured in my Skies, Light & Atmosphere book available on my website with a special offer package of book and DVD, available only from the site or my demonstrations. Don’t forget to watch out for these effects in the natural landscape when you are out and about. You can learn a lot even without your painting or sketching gear!

4 thoughts on “Using counterchange to good effect

  1. I really like everything in this painting David, from the counterchange where the background meets the building and the reflections in the wet pavement. It inspires me to get my paints out and practice. – Wendy in Australia

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