Armand Cabrera
(All images by Armand Cabrera)

The edge of a shape carries its essential information. The character, balance and weight of an object are in the edge. ~Harvey Dunn

An artist asked me to write about edges. The following is an abridged version of information I cover in my workshops. The concept may be difficult to digest in written form.

Edges are dependant upon point of view and angle of light. Edges will change 1) as you move or 2) as the light in the scene changes. There are two types of edges: 1) edges that divide the planes of a form and 2) edges that separate forms from each other. Most of the time, the edges that delineate plane changes within a form are less obvious than the edges between forms.

Once you understand this, look for the quality of the edge in relation to the objects around it. The quality of an edge is how soft or crisp it appears to you. The greater the contrast of value or hue—the sharper the edge will appear. The closer the value or hue—the softer the edge will appear.

The quality of an edge is dependant upon the separation of value and hue between the edge and its surroundings.

In most cases, paint the edge the way you see it in relation to the things around it. To do this, strive to get the value and the contour of your shape correct. Compare it to the totality of the scene. If you arbitrarily change some aspect of the shape, you have altered the quality of its edge weighed against the way you are seeing it. When you change an edge, change it for a reason and know what the outcome of the change is before you make it.

Artists often over-exaggerate the edges in their paintings. Edges are too crisp because the artist stares at an element with tunnel vision and doesn’t relate it to other elements or the painting as a whole. Edges are too soft because the artist haphazardly slaps paint around until everything is mush and mud on the canvas. Avoid this by mixing a color and placing it on the canvas…then leave it alone.

Remember, a crisp edge will bring more attention than a soft edge…so avoid too many hard edges in a painting. These edges will pull your eye to them and scatter the center of interest.

The best way to paint an edge is to paint the correct values and hues of the adjoining shapes. You don’t have to physically blend an edge or smear the paint to get an effect. Your painting will have more authority if you make a mark with your brush and let the blending happen optically.

6 thoughts on “Edges

  1. Great post. Is it true also that a soft edge tends to recede while a hard edge tends to advance objects toward the viewer? I know this applies in still life but is it reliable in landscape and portraiture as well?

  2. Gregory,

    You are talking about edges between forms not edges separating planes. When you have edges between forms, the receding edge tends to give way to the closer edge but again it needs to be tempered by observation and design.

    When you have edges between forms perpendicular to each other, one edge needs to dominate.
    The harder edge draws focus.

  3. Great post. I had never thought about the contrast of value or hue affecting the hardness of an edge. Your sample paintings do a great job of demonstrating that.

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