One of the most important tools a painter can learn to recognize and employ is the artistic placement of edges. All great representational painters past and present have employed masterful edges in their paintings and fully understood why and how to use them to create the illusion of three dimensions. To illustrate just one example, we have marked some of the hard and soft edges in the detail above from a panel of Joaquin Sorolla's Vision of Spain. It shows how he manipulated edges to build the sense of reality in his paintings. Notice the soft vs. hard edges and the kinds of brush strokes used to make them. Look how he often turns his forms not by value changes, but by varying the apparent softness of his edges within a shape as he changes color temperature. He painted this series of large canvases on location, en plein air. Magnifico!
|Edges play an important part in establishing volume on the surface of a painting.|
Every object we see has a variety of edges, either sharp or blurry, bright or dull, and it is up to the artist to decide which edges the viewer should notice and which ones shall support that focus. If all edges are sharp and in focus in a painting, how are we to know what is important? Simply put, the character of the edges, besides denoting the shape of things, can also lead the eye to them or away from them. Edges are also crucial to creating a sense of volume in forms. Fortunately we don't have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, but simply follow these ten lessons of how to paint edges from the Masters:
The center of our vision sees in sharp focus. Focal points typically have sharp edges.
Sharp edges are higher contrast. Soft edges are lower contrast.
Peripheral vision is always in softer focus. Paint your peripheral elements with softer edges.
Strong light produces harder edges.
Soft light produces softer edges.
Edges appear softer when they are next to a similar color or value.
Edges appear harder when they are next to colors that contrast sharply.
Clear air produces sharper edges.
Edges become softer in distance.
Movement produces softer edges.
If the subject of edges and how to use them is not already on your radar, we hope these guidelines will help to make your edges more expressive and effective. Keep painting!
–John and Ann