Sunday, April 19, 2009

About edges

Okay; Thats it with the Bouguereau, now we are moving on to the study of edges.

Painters worry a lot about edges. An edge is, of course, where one area of color or form meets another. The Sargent above is a great example of masterful handling of edges. Lets take a closer look.

The jawline of this head goes from hard to soft, and back again repeatedly. Look at point A. that hard edge shows where the the malar bone sits close to the surface and creates the bony cage protecting the eye. I know, you thought because I was a landscape painter, I knew nothing of the figure didn't you? I can paint a better landscape because I spent a great deal of time in front of the figure. If you want to paint anything well, you should too.

The line of the cheek runs downward and softens till at B it disappears and is lost against the background.The line again hardens up, bringing the chin out in front of the line of the cheek, and in front of the neck below it. After the edge passes C it softens into the shadow and is lost at D. The head comes forward from the soft distance and hardens up as it comes closer to you. That is an over simplification, but that is the rough idea.

Each of these changes in softness of edge describe something that is going on in the form. Often where the form turns gradually an artist will use a soft edge. Often in portraits or a figure, a hard edge is used where a bone sits close to the surface. Point E is a hard line and the two points F and G are soft. F to keep the hairline subordinated to the face and unobtrusive and G to drop the back of the head back and into the "distance".

Notice how Sargent has taken that hoop earring in and out of view. Those are called lost and found edges. Sargent is particularly known for this sort of handling. He has also used a selectively hard edge to show the forms about the eye emerging into the light from the shadow filled socket. Look at how squared off and planar the upper lids are. That is a demonstration of structure and how to get it. He has expressed the planes as simply as they can be shown.

Here we return to a variation of an ongoing theme in this blog. Which is this:

These edges were designed and installed into this painting.

They are based somewhat on what the artist saw in front of him. However they also are used to describe the anatomy and the way some forms sit in front of other forms, or disappear into the shadow and drop away from the viewer. There are visible hard and soft edges in nature. But you can copy that model in front of you as carefully as you want and you will never get edge quality like this. The edges are expressive because they have been expressed, not discovered.

Whenever you have an artist using bravura (flashy ) brushwork, look for an interplay of hard and soft edges. Artists who are into brushwork pay very close attention to their edges.

What happens when you paint all of your edges hard? This is what you get. Nasty, and brutal.

We will continue with the study of edges tomorrow.


Unknown said...

Very informative! A lot of times I hear books, workshops, etc. saying to just "observe" the edges, but I think you are right. There are times and places in which they must be advanced or diminished to help the painting look more like the model, even if those edges aren't evident on the model in real life.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jeremy: Something I am pushing really hard in this blog is thinking about what you are doing.You cannot observe your way to fine painting.

JAMES A. COOK said...

I have been studying much from your blog. ONCE I understand your points I feel certain freedoms taking place with my painting. I observe like cazy and then decide what I will paint and how, but it is the THINKING part that I find to be the hardest. My fear is learning wrong ways to think. I practice, read , observe and listen. Such as your blog.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It hurts when I think.
Better to have wrong ways of thinking, than not to be thinking at all. You can change your thoughts. The habit of working without thinking is murder to change.

There are a whole lot of painters whose work I have seen who haven't thought in YEARS....Stape