Edges: A Magical Tool

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Painting detail: illustrating hard and soft edges within a pastel painting.

Painting is but an illusion. How we handle the elements within the framework of the painting relate visually to the viewer and communicate our intentions. Learning the strength of these elements is our ongoing job. How edges are manipulated can be one of the strongest tools we have in conveying focus and form. The sculptor creates within the realm of mass, producing bulk and relating form. The painter, on the other hand, works on a flat surface and produces the appearance of form with the visual elements of shape, value, color, and edge. Our pastel surface is flat. We have to produce the magic of making it appear dimensional. Hard, sharper edges produce stronger focus and flatness. Soft, blurred edges produce less attention and more depth of form. Finessing hard and soft edges throughout our paintings can lead to more attention and depth.

The relativity of edges throughout a painting is determined by the artist’s choices. Something may appear very soft in one painting and yet appear hard in another, depending on how the edges are handled comparatively. If an artist chooses to work very sharp edged, then anything slightly blurred will appear very soft. If everything is blurred, anything slightly hard will appear sharp. Generally speaking, creating harder edges near the area of interest, or major focal points, leads the viewer to a specific area and holds their attention, just like focusing our vision on a given area makes it appear sharper. Conversely, softer, fuzzy edges diminish and become less important, which leads to a feeling of bulk due to the offset placement of our eyes. Softer edged objects within our paintings feel as if they could be hugged.

Orchestrating between hard and soft edges becomes a personal style choice. Understanding their visual power provides us the power of the illusion: producing both focus and bulk. Another magician’s trick exposed!

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