Winston and Churchill Watercolour
Edges, the often forgotten attribute to a good painting.
Yes, we all remember value, hue and chroma but edges don’t seem to hold the same weight when we are planning our paintings.
Edges though can separate the men from the boys, they can make a good painting great. Just look at a Vermeer or a Rembrandt. Specifically search for the edges in these Old Masters and you will see how varied they can be. Vermeer and Rembrandt often don’t blend much but use halftones and intermediary colours to make the transition from one value to another.
The Lacemaker, Vermeer
Edges can be hard or soft, lost or found. Round shapes such as spheres or heads have softer edges because the light moves gradually and uniformly over the surfaces. Whereas a cube or a chair will have harder edges because the light hits it in one direction and sharply changes direction as it moves onto a different plane.
Soft Edges Hard Edges
So where can they enhance a painting?
As artists, we have to manipulate the edges a little because if we’re working from a photograph the edges translate much harder than in real life.
There is an advantage to this manipulation however because it means that we can direct the viewer’s eye around a painting. For example, we can have a harder edge at our focal point and the softer edges can sink into the background increasing the sense of depth.
Losing the edges creates depth when painting a vase of flowers for instance. The support petals can be lively and soft in the background and a particular bud, the star of the show can be brought into sharp focus.
Soft edges in the background create depth
If you are setting up a still life edges can become your best friends. Most people read a painting from left to right and the harder edges in some parts of the still life can lead the viewer around the still life. Also, an eye can be stopped from wandering out of a painting by having a hard edge at the side of the canvas.
The eye wanders around the work
It’s important though not to have just soft or lost edges because the painting will look too blended, fuzzy and uninteresting.
Having hard edges with no variation will give your work a more cartoon Disney like feel to it.
It’s important to point out here that it’s difficult to soften a hard edge that has dried, so it’s a good practice to soften all the edges at the end of a painting session. You can always sharpen in places later on.. My students, if they’re reading this, will probably be hearing ‘SOFTEN THE EDGES’ in their sleep tonight!
How do you judge whether the edge is soft or hard? Well try and squint, squinting isn’t just for looking at values. Squinting at your still life or landscape will also differentiate the hard from the soft edge too.
Squinting you can see Judy’s softer side!
It’s all about observing, isn’t it? Taking a really good hard look. So the next time you embark on a painting don’t just look at the hue, value and chroma. Study the edges too.
Edges the often forgotten attribute.