Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!
The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.
Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.
Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.
And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.
The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!
Please note: The photos this month are from the Reference Image Library or were taken by me. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.
This month’s Spotlight continues our discussion on…Edges!
For those who may be joining us for the first time, here’s a link to last month’s discussion:
Last month we discussed how the manipulation of edges can be used to help us create areas of more or less emphasis, and also to help create the illusion of depth. This month, we will explore some of the other aspects of edges. They can play a part in modeling form, showing texture, indicating atmospheric conditions and indicating movement. They can also play a part in composition and how the eye moves through a painting. In many cases, they play many of these roles.
For the most part, our discussion of edges is primarily aimed to recreate the illusion of human vision, but in many styles of art this is not necessarily one of the goals. So keep in mind that while we discuss making objects look round or creating depth in a painting, these are artistic choices. Choices can just as easily be made to create a painting that looks flat and has little depth. This is one reason that there just aren’t any rules when it comes to manipulating edges.
Even when our goal is to create an accurate illusion of reality, it is still better to avoid formulas and treat each new situation and painting experience on its own terms. In his book Alla Prima,
Richard Schmid writes, “Unfortunately, there are no set rules about edges…What appears in one situation may not occur in another. There are too many variables (including your own eyesight) to allow for predictability.”
I’ll be adding some additional comments by Schmid, as well as some from Bob Rohm’s book, The Painterly Approach
, and from Harley Brown as well. But for the most part, much of what appeared last month – and even more so this month – is based on my observations and opinions on how edges seem to be manipulated and handled in the many paintings I have studied, and use as examples. Aside from Schmid’s book, there is not really that much discussion of edges in the how-to books that I have read. As in many things about art – learning to make your own observations is the most important “secret.”
So, please, make your own observations – on real life objects and in paintings you admire – and see how many discoveries about edges you make!
For the most part, when artists discuss edges, they refer to hard, soft and lost edges, but keep in mind that these terms are relative and the edges in your painting are compared to one another. Most edges fall somewhere in between your hardest and softest. In fact, Schmid writes (in bold letters) in his book,
“The vast majority of edges in any subject will fall into the intermediate range between hardness and softness.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some examples of what edges can do.
Edges can help us model form and indicate texture
The inherent shape of and actual physical properties of the objects you’re painting can effect the appearance of its edges. Rounded objects or areas – such as apples, a person’s cheek, a rolling hill – usually have softer edges. A softly textured object or area, or one without a definite edge – such as a cloud, fur, hair, a field of swaying grasses - usually has softer edges. Reflections in water almost always have soft edges. Flat, angular, or sharp objects like a box, stiff collars, my DVD player, all have harder edges. In last month’s Pastel Journal article, Richard McKinley states, “If it can cut you, sharpen its edge. If you can hug it, soften its edge.”
Softening the edges of round objects, or surfaces that are curving away is not just an artist’s trick. Since we have two eyes that see things from a different angle, the edges of rounded objects are often slightly fuzzy because each eye sees a slightly different “edge.” This effect is most apparent when the objects are closer to us and will diminish and disappear as the objects become more distant.
Interior edges are often the result of where light and shadow meet. How those edges are handled will provide much information on the shapes of the forms. A rounded object like an apple will have a more gradual, softer light/shadow transition then an object that has sharp corners, like a box.
In most cases, texture is nothing more than the pattern of light and shadow and the edges where they meet.
Most of these things are pretty self-explanatory – and I’m sure most of you are already manipulating your edges to model form. But for the benefit of newcomers to the subject, let’s start with the most simple of shapes and explore how edges help model form.
As we discussed last month, the apparent hardness or softness of an edge can be the result of numerous factors: the actual physical make-up of the edge (sharp, blurry, the use of broken color) and/or the amount of contrast at the edge (more contrast=harder, less contrast=softer). In the case of Box A we see the form of the box, but the low contrast at the edges makes it appear somewhat flatter compared to B, where we have an increase in the edge contrast and, therefore, harder edges. In C the receding outer edges have been softened, thus – at least as far as I see it – making the box even more 3-dimensional.
So, some ways to model form and make things appear more dimensional are:
Harden interior edges.
Soften exterior/outline edges.
Harden nearer edges or edges that come towards the viewer.
Soften edges that recede away from the viewer.
Let’s look at the cylinder:
In No. 1, the dividing line between light and shadow is clearly not real looking. Having a hard edge gives the illusion of flat planes coming together – as in the box examples. So, rounded objects have softened edges where light and shadow meet, as in No. 2. In No. 3, I have softened the outer edges – again, to hopefully add even another level of roundness and depth.
So, some ways to make objects seem rounder are:
Soften interior edges.
Soften exterior/outline edges.
The more gradual the rounding, the more gradual the transition from light to shadow and the softer the edge. A cheek, for example, will usually have a softer edge as it turns than the bridge of the nose, which rounds much more quickly.
And again, these manipulations of edges are all possibilities, not requirements. You may find that softening interior edges is all you need to create roundness in your particular painting. Or maybe all you will want to do is soften the exterior edges. It is your choice – as is not softening any of these edges and keeping your shapes flat. This is art – you can choose how, when and why you will handle the edges in your painting.
Here, in this oil painting by 16th-17th century artist Fede Galizia, we see some nice softening of the edges of the fruit. Compare those edges to the harder edges of the flat plane of the sliced apple.
Let’s compare it to this painting by Paul Gauguin. Not only are Gauguin’s apples hard edged – they are outlined, the ultimate hard edge! This makes the apples seem flat. And yet, the bowl’s back edge (where it disappears behind the apples on the left side) is softened to give the bowl depth. The head sculpture also has a variation of soft and harder edges to model its form, and appears much more 3-dimensional.
Edges can reveal the quality of the light and atmosphere
The intensity of the light and the clarity of the atmosphere effects edges. Bright direct light (such as on a sunny day) will usually create harder edges (often with high contrast) than softer, diffuse light (such as on an overcast day). Edges will usually appear to be harder when the atmosphere is clear, and softer when the atmosphere is humid, foggy or misty.
Edges usually are softer within shadow areas as the values within those areas are usually fairly similar.
We know it is sunny and clear in this Renoir painting by the hardness of the edges – even in some of the distant buildings.
While the foggy atmosphere softens the edges in this Monet:
Edges can help create the illusion of movement
Our eyes can not “freeze” movement the way a camera can. There are less hard edges and details in a moving object when viewed by the human eye. Softer edges can help us try to recreate the illusion of movement.
Compare the edges within the waterfall with those of the objects (roots, grasses, rocks) in the foreground of this painting by Frederic Church. And yet, using too many soft edges might make a moving object lose its form, so some harder edges and details are usually still necessary.
Notice also the edges of the rocks are softer within the shadow area than those in the sun, as well as the softening of edges due to the misty conditions.
Edges can help integrate the subject and the background and help direct the eye
Here’s another reason to vary edges: If you use harder edges all around your subject or objects, they might end up looking like they are “pasted on” - as if they were somehow separate from the background or other areas of your painting. Varying your edges is a good way to integrate your subject(s) with the entire painting. We touched on this last month; how emphasizing or de-emphasizing areas allows the eye to move around the painting – skipping over, or moving through areas with soft and lost edges and towards the more hard-edged focal areas.
Here’s a painting by John Singer Sargent. Notice that there are numerous areas that have lost or very soft edges that integrate the figure with the background. These soft and lost areas offer areas of virtually no emphasis (unless one puts big red arrows there!) – allowing the eye to move quickly to the areas of harder edges and greater contrast.
One additional word about edges and directing the eye. Since hard edges attract the eye, one needs to be careful about placing hard edges near the outer areas of your painting. If they pull the eye too far in any one direction, your painting may become unbalanced and the viewer’s eye may actually be led out of the painting. Since the hardest edges are usually reserved for the focal areas, hard edges in the periphery of the painting may be out of place for that reason as well.
A subtle softening of any edge that meets the boundary of your painting will also help keep the eye from being led out of the painting.
Variety in lines and edges
In many drawing courses, varying edges – or lines – is often considered one of the fundamentals, so it’s no surprise that it relates to painting, too! So, even if you can’t figure out a good, logical reason, just varying lines and edges is a basic fundamental to a successful work of art. Because, as we discussed last month – the human eye does not – and perhaps can not – see everything with an equal level of focus and concentration. Some things stand out – others are less noticeable.
And remember, edge – and line - variation also means that a particular edge can have variety, especially longer edges. A single edge can be hard, soft and lost as we move along its length.
Here is a wonderful drawing by Andrew Loomis. Enjoy the wonderful variety in lines and edges!
There is a lot to notice here, but I’ll just mention the line variety in the hair, including some hard, soft and lost edges in the hair’s outline. Even the line that defines the bridge of the nose goes from hard to softer then harder again. And even though there is no background other than white paper, those soft and lost edges integrate the subject and the background beautifully. The drawing emerges from the paper as if the two were bound together. No “pasted on” look here!
This is from Loomis’s book, Fun with a Pencil
, and is used for the purpose of study. Please do not copy or reproduce this image.
Let’s take one last look at a painting and see all the various edges that are there. A wonderful pastel by Gustaf Lundberg, Portait of Boucher
Here are the things I notice in regards to edges:
Soft edges on the back edge of the hand and finger, indicating both roundness and an edge that is receding away from the viewer.
Harder edges on the thumb of that same hand to bring it forward and add emphasis.
Harder edges in the face – it is the main focal area. The harder edges on the tip of the nose also bring it forward.
Softer edge transitions on the bridge of the nose and the near cheek and jaw indicating more rounded forms.
A soft edge on the receding cheek and jawline.
Softer edges in the hair away from the focal area, and in the shadows.
A variety of edges in the clothing and ruffles.
Personally, I think it is primarily this variety of edges that make this a wonderful painting!
Why edge manipulation is harder than it looks!
As we mentioned last month, since edges can play different roles, sometimes we need to set priorities when those roles may work against each other. For example, we have seen that we can soften edges to create roundness, but what if our round apple is also the focal point of our painting – and we want to use harder edges to create emphasis? We may need to sacrifice roundness to create emphasis. Or we may need to find other ways – such as color – to try and accomplish both goals. It’s not always easy!
Another challenge in regards to painting lost and soft edges is that while we are painting them, we are concentrating on that part of the painting. But when we concentrate on a particular part of our painting, we usually want to add detail and harder edges there. So, somehow (and I wish I knew how!) when painting soft and lost edges you need to keep yourself from concentrating and lingering in that area. It is not easy to paint parts of your painting as if we don’t really want people to look there!
That’s why it is important to step back and try to see your painting as a whole, rather than looking at specific parts. But it’s not easy to do!
Some edge comments by others
As I mentioned earlier, most of the comments in this Spotlight are based on my experience and observations. Here are a few comments that I have collected from other sources:
From the book The Painterly Approach
, by Bob Rohm:
“Too many obvious (hard) edges make a work busy. Too many soft ones make the work weak. You must orchestrate a poetic balance. This is a subjective creative choice on your part. Ask yourself if the edge of a stroke is calling attention to an area that should be quiet, and vice versa.”
“By all means, don’t paint the edges that you don’t see just because you know where the edge of something is. If you don’t see it, don’t paint it.”
“It is not essential to have a rational explanation to paint it (an edge) convincingly. For example, if you recognize a soft edge, that’s all the information you need! It isn’t really necessary to know why it is soft. Just paint it the way it looks!”
These last two quotes stress the importance of observation – and trusting your observations!
Earlier, I mentioned Schmid’s quote that the majority of edges will be of an intermediate hardness/softness. Harley Brown, in his book, Eternal Truths for Every Artist
, makes a similar point:
“Too many soft edges – they make a painting go mushy. Too many hard edges – they make a painting strict and harsh.”
Even though this isn’t a quote from a book, I think one can approach edges much like a magician approaches his or her art of illusion. You want your handling of edges it to be effective, but not really noticeable. You want to create the illusion, but you don’t want the method of creating the illusion to be what the viewer notices!
A personal example
Last month during our discussion on edges, I remarked that manipulating edges can be done at various times during the painting process. While the most obvious method would be to manipulate edges as you create them, it is possible to manipulate most of the edges in the final stage of the painting. If a person’s tendency is to paint with mostly soft edges, then certain edges can be made harder at the end. I think more people are likely to paint with hard edges as they paint – they can then soften the edges as needed in the final stages. On advantage to manipulating edges in the final stages is that you can see the entire painting at once – thus you can manipulate edges in comparison
to the other edges in the painting. In all likelihood, you will manipulate edges both during the process and at the end when you can more easily compare edges to one another.
Here is a personal example of some edge manipulation in one of my paintings. The original painting was done in 2007. Last year, I revised it – mainly concentrating on edges. I guess others can decide which version they like better, but much of the manipulation was done for many of the reasons we have discussed the past two months.
While there is some edge variety in the 2007 original (left) – the overall look is one of lots of harder edges. In the new version (right) I softened numerous edges. Almost all the edges were softened throughout the hair – hopefully giving it a softer texture. The back edge of the hair is softened even more, both to create more depth and roundness, as well as to de-emphasize that area. The shadow edge on the bridge of the nose is softened a little to create more roundness, and so are the far edge of the nose, cheek, neck and forehead. The edges of the collarbones are all softened to de-emphasize them. I think overall there is a much greater sense of roundness in the new version and the attention is more focused on the face and hands.
The references: In the next post...