Today's post is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She has been a member of the Putney Painters since 2004, a small invitational group of painters who are mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
View From The Trail, by Lori Woodward: oil on Linen, 12x12
The hardest edge in the painting above is where the small, light evergreen (just to your right of the middle) meets a dark background behind it. Although this edge does not incorporate a straight line, this area has the most contrast and appears as a crisp edge. If you squint way down and then open your eyelids slowly, the left edge of this young evergreen will appear first.
Although I painted this outdoors on a rainy day, where the values were mostly equal, I manipulated the contrast later in my studio to create a "landing place" for the viewer.
One of the easiest ways that artists can make their paintings look professional -- is when they have the knowledge and ability to manipulate and show variety with the edges of their subjects.
But where do you start? Is it enough to just make all the edges soft? Some artists do that, but I believe that the eye needs a landing place - where there is one hard, crisp edge. If the painting has all soft edges, or even all hard edges, the viewer's gaze is not directed by the artist.
As in movies, paintings need climaxes too. What I mean is that each composition needs to have an area in the painting where the eye lands. It's like a "landing page" in a website or blog... it's the place in the painting that attracts the most attention.
Nancy Guzik, Daniel Keys and Kyle Stuckey have given me permission to use images of their paintings for this post.
Below: A recent floral painting by Nancy Guzik
Perhaps you're confused or wondering about where to start when deciding which edges to make hard and which to make softer. Well, if you work from life, the decision making process becomes simple and do-able. Just set up your still life, or model in a way that is pleasing to you -- make it simple enough for you to complete with the skill level you already have.
Use one light source whenever possible. Daniel Keys uses a daylight fluorescent bulb from the hardware store - which creates a cool light source. This makes painting with oil or any other opaque medium easier - because it creates cool whites/lights and warm shadows. Since white is the coolest color on the palette, every time you add white to a color to lighten it, it'll cool the resulting color considerably. If your "lights" are cool, and adding white makes them cooler, then half the work of matching color and temperature is done. But this subject is worthy of a separate post altogether. So let me move back to edges.
Roses and Hydrangeas - by Daniel Keys 16x24, oil on linen
Notice (above) which rose catches your attention - it's where your eye "lands". If you squint slightly at this painting, you'll see the upper right edge of the yellow rose show up more clearly than the rest of the painting. Why is this? Because Daniel created a hard edge where the light edge of the yellow rose joins the dark background. Not only is there a physically hard edge on this rose, but there is also great contrast (light against dark).
Below, I'll discuss why certain areas of your subject matter have hard edges. But before I do, I'd like you to do a little exercise. Next time you set up to paint - whether it be a still life, portrait or landscape from life, ( Please do not do this from a photograph) set it up with one light source (preferably cool light - 5200 kelvin or higher). Then when it's all set up, close your eyes and very slowly open them so that you begin to see the shapes and edges of the objects. (You can also do this with landscapes and portraiture).
Take note of which edge you see first. This is your hardest edge!
Please don't worry about where this hardest edge falls... just accept it for now. Don't worry about your composition - it is what it is! This post is to help you define your hardest edge. Hint: It will usually be where the lightest light is next to a fairly dark area.
Conversely, where your subject's objects join up with an adjacent area with similar values, there will be no hard edge... and many times close values create lost edges... those that disappear when you squint at your setup. The mark of a professional painting -- it has several lost edges.
Here is a small still life painting by Kyle Stuckey: Notice that the upper left edge of the teacup - where the dark, wooden box falls behind it displays the painting's sharpest and hardest edge. It is where the lightest light conjoins with a darker area behind it. The edges of white teacups often have hard edges, because they are not soft in real life physically, but this is especially true when there is a dark are behind the rim of the teacup.
Kyle was careful not to make any other area in the painting as light as the interior of the teacup. Notice that even the white areas of the tablecloth do not compete with the lightest light of the teacup... making that edge the landing area for the viewer's eye.
I hope this has been helpful and will make defining edges for your next painting experience a bit simpler.