Edges: A Soft Touch

Q. How do I keep a soft edge while making a value change at the same time? The wash seems to dry before I can get another color down, resulting in a hard edge—not the effect I want.

A. This is a problem for most students just starting out in watercolor. What we tend to do (I did this) is first outline our subject and then go back to paint the rest of it. But by the time we’re done, the edges are dry, leaving harder and darker edges than we expected.

Here’s how to avoid these hard edges: Take a wet brush and begin painting your subject by pulling the paint from the edge you’re working on towards the center. Working quickly, reverse your strokes to pull paint towards the edges. You should have enough paint on your brush to allow you to pull the paint both ways. If not, quickly load your brush up again and keep working fast!

This method will allow you to pull the paint constantly away from your edges and at the same time fill in the subject—much better than painting your edges all the way around the subject first. If your edges are still too hard, you can also lighten them up with this simple technique: Using a brush full of clear water, “lift” up the paint around the edges into your subject.

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