Hard and soft edges are the terms used to describe the way the edges of forms relate to their surroundings. Hard edges are crisp and distinct. They clearly define a form and separate it from its surroundings. On the other hand, soft edges are blurred. They blend into adjacent areas and integrate forms.
Edges serve a variety of useful compositional functions, but most often they?re used to move the eye around the painting (hard edges move fast; soft edges move slow) and create the illusion of depth. The eye sees harder, more sharply focused edges on objects closest to it. Edges appear to get softer as objects recede into the distance.
You can easily re-create this idea on your painting surface by using a combination of hard and soft edges. For example, in Among the Tulips I used hard edges to make the tulips and the foreground grasses move forward in the picture plane. I then placed soft, indistinct shapes in the background to suggest distance. If you?re painting a deeper scene, such as in Breakers Ashore (below), you can use a combination of hard and soft edges to bridge the gap and create smooth, natural transitions between the foreground and the background.
Building a Bridge. In Breakers Ashore (oil, 24×36) Lin Seslar used a combination of hard and soft edges to integrate all of the elements in the scene. For instance, she used harder edges to define two separate incoming waves. At the same time, she used the softer edges of foam as a bridge linking the two waves with each other and with the sky.
Patrick Seslar is a longtime contributing editor to The Artist?s Magazine.