Tonal contrast is simply the difference between the light and dark areas in a painting. The greater the difference the more attention the area attracts.

n the example above the eye goes straight to the area of maximum contrast between the white and black shapes. When the tonal range is reduced, as in the second example, the eye still goes to the area of maximum contrast, but the design looses impact. Tonal contrast is one of the most powerful tools we have to define the centre of interest in a painting.

In this painting of a fly, the strong tonal contrast between the light areas of the fly and the dark background, cause attention to go immediately to this area. 
The abstract lines and marks in the foreground lead the eye back up to the centre of interest. Having less tonal contrast in the foreground allows the fly to dominate and so not confuse the viewer.
Simple abstract marks such as this foreground play an important part in the composition of the painting. Their job is to lead the eye back to the centre of interest . They must have enough strength to do this while not drawing attention away from the centre of interest. Delicate tonal adjustment is often necessary to get this balance right.


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