The handling of the edges within a painting can be subconsciously intimidating to an artist, which can have a subsequent effect on how product is applied. When the elements that make up the subject matter of a scene are visually recognized, we intellectually understand that they are separated from one another—that there is space between them, even though they may overlap; unless, of course, they are composed of flat objects next to, or on top off, each other, like pieces of paper.
When color is applied to a painting surface to represent this separation between objects, the artist’s hand will often automatically slow down as it approaches an edge and then follow the shape. Conversely, painters often overstate objects by retaining extremely harsh edge separations, allowing no appearance of gradation to occur. This “edge intimidation” can produce an outlined appearance, making the perception of depth within a representational painting awkward.
The Use of Line:
The human desire to communicate has brought about language and ultimately symbolic marks that represent words. When these marks are properly arranged, they communicate the intentions of the author. Drawing shares a similar notion. The artist’s use of line to symbolize a shape is their calligraphy. It is amazing how a few marks on a surface can be identifiable to a viewer. It is important, though, for the representational painter to remember that value (the representation of light and dark) and color are also present in every scene. Line is a useful tool and one that can be accentuated for stylistic purposes, but it is the one thing we use as artists that does not exist in nature. Even a power line, draped between two poles, will appear and disappear, depending on what it is next to. It is the contrast of surrounding shapes that creates the appearance of things. A useful exercise to practice this is to focus on the negative spaces (shapes) surrounding things. This breaks the obsession with identifying things and ultimately produces a more realistic portrayal of the scene.
A Controlling Nature: Childhood coloring books may have been delightful to play with but they also instilled a notion that we have to stay within the lines. Breaking free from this impulse is hard. If we go outside of the lines, we may lose what it is. One way I have overcome this is to nurture the need for control by very accurately drawing the subject matter onto my painting surface. Once I have, I let go of it by smearing pastel or wet mixed-media across the drawing. This serendipitous underpainting sets the stage for the bits and pieces of additional pastel. It is the old painting mantra: Make it, break it, and then make it again.
Once we become aware of edge intimidation, it seems that it should be relatively easy to overcome. But knowing it happens and attempting to alter how our hand responds when painting, doesn’t always arrest the situation. In actuality, edge intimidation is so deeply engrained, it is one of the hardest obstacles for painters to overcome. By focusing in the beginning of a painting on the negative spaces, instead of outlines, and allowing elements to smear together instead of being harshly outlined, you will break free of your edgy habits. Maybe an old painting dog can learn new tricks!
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