Thursday, April 23, 2009

Different ways of making an edge

There are several ways of softening an edge. When I present them in this post,you will probably say to yourself. "Whats the difference whether I use one or the other, it looks like the end result is the same?"
Here in the lab there isn't a lot of difference, but I will be going somewhere with this later. I am laying ground work for some further conclusions.

Okay, here is our first example. The edge between the two notes has been made by pulling a flat bristle brush along the edge. That melds the two together. If I was doing real slick work, I might want to use a sable for this. But In my brushy paintings a bristle is just fine.

Also, as an aside here, notice my handling in the blue portion . That sort of fat look to the paint is something I have learned to do. Often painters try to push the paint around with lots of medium and not enough paint. I make em out of paint . I am a brushwork guy and often I want that luscious look of the full bodied paint. You may want that, or not want it, but you should be able to do it. It is another arrow to have in your quiver when the need arises.

To do this, you load the brush (bristle ) and put the paint down straight no medium, and then most importantly you leave it alone. Try working with your paint as it comes out of the tube with no added turpentine or medium at all. I 'll bet you get the best handling you have ever had in your life. If you need to speed your drying add a little alkyd to your white before you begin, but don't put it on your palette. This is not always how I do things but it is something I use to get a certain look out of the paint. Incidentally if you are putting pea sized blobs of paint on your palette, you will never have good handling.You may get an enameled surface, but you won't have expressive brushwork.

You are working on what Emile Gruppe called a starved palette. He said to paint like a millionaire. Squirt more than you would put on your toothbrush, onto your palette. Get cheap somewhere else, buy the generic soda. Teach your pets to forage for themselves. But lay out enough paint to allow you to use it freely. I am always amazed by how stingy students palettes are at workshops. When I lay out their palette with enough paint they act like I am crazy. Then they drive home in a Mercerdes.

Here is the other way of dealing with an edge. I am referring to this as softening it, but actually this is something different. Rather than blurring the two together I am darkening the light note as it approaches the dark note, and I am lightening the dark note as it nears the light note.
I am really downplaying the value shift between the two. The viewers eye will pass on without "over registering:" on the edge.

This means of dealing with an edge allows all sorts of trickery and diversions in the designing of paintings. More about that in a following post.

The second way of making edges often gives a firmer look to your work. Too many softened edges that are pulled together can give an overly slick look to a painting. Making your edges by adjusting your values is often the better choice in practice.

I suggest you practice until you have both in you repertoire. You need to be able to blur or pull delicate colors together without dirtying the notes , only melding them. To do the values control method you will have to think about altering the temperature of the two notes as they come together. Sometimes that is not necessary, but sometimes it is. You should be able to do both neatly and cleanly. I have seen many still lives and many horizons in landscapes ruined by crudely handled edges.


jeff said...

I agree about the paint.
There is more of it in the shop.
I have some tubes of Cad Red that have been around for years and I use a fair amount. Of course one uses less Cad Red then say Yellow.
But most things are in the range of earth colors which are cheap, even for the top tear paints. Don't want to use that $60 tube of Cerulean by Cobalt, Ultramarine and Prussian and you can mix any combination of blue with these three.

Many years ago I was taking a landscape class with Frank Mason and he gave me a crit, which is still hanging in my studio. Anyway he stood there and looked at my painting and said "not enough paint on your palette Jeffrey, please put some more out"... I did, and he then used it all up in about 5 or 10 minutes and asked for more. When he was done, in about 20 minutes or so, the painting was transformed from my timid thin painting into a rich sketch with great big expressive strokes followed by smaller ones. He was a master at putting down a stroke and when he did it is in the right place and had the right movement to convey the idea. This is very hard to do, to paint fast and know how to put a stroke down and leave it.

Mihail said...

Great blog! Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us.
Concerning edges I'd like to add something. As I see it, by softening the edge between two color masses our aim is to lessen the difference/contrast between them. To do that, first we need to analyze what kind of difference we have.
Do they differ mostly in value? Or maybe in chroma? Or in color? Or in more than 1 aspect (both in value and chroma for example).In the first case(value difference) value control helps to lessen the contrast. But if we'd put two notes of the same value, first having a high chroma and the second having a low chroma, next to each other they will still be quite contrasting. Same deal with difference in hue - two complementaries of the same value will still have quite a lot of contrast. So we need to take all that into account then dealing with edges. I hope I'm making sence.

Unknown said...

Thanks for yet another informative post on edges - I have a lot to practice now. I know I don't use enough paint - no more of that! I will start to use more.

On another note, my dog does forage, but it is usually INSIDE the house, unfortunately. It's hard to keep things out of reach from a 155lb St. Bernard.

Todd Bonita said...

Just a note to let you know that I've been spending an obscene amount of time reading your older posts..the Hibbard analysis is blowing my mind. You really should turn this into a book Stape, seriously. This is one of those best-kept-secret places to get hard core info on how to paint. Brilliant.

Live free or day my fellow NH'er.

Stapleton Kearns said...

If a painter wants to cut costs he can as you point out,use more earth colors and avoid cerulean and cobalt isn't cheap either.
Its really a good thing to have a teacher like Mason set you7 straight on stingy palettes. Somehow it just doesn't register on a student unless you empty a palette for them real quick, "Say have you got some more white? That's all you've got? Here give me that tube" Squiiiiiiiirt!

Stapleton Kearns said...


The list of differences you present is one of the reasons that the making the edges by adjusting the value is often a good way to go.
I think of adjusting the value first as it is a part of drawing, the other considerations come second,if they need to be dealt with. Just pulling the two together with a blurred edge doesn't address any of those variations

Stapleton Kearns said...


Did you feel the quake today?

If cost is important strip back to your earth colors.Trying to use as much paint as you can will probably get you so you are making the thing out of paint
Maybe you could make that dog a little sweater with an anvil in it, ...Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think that is the long range plan. I have wanted to write a book for years. The blog forces me to write several hours every evening. I always knew it would take that, but the blog enforces the discipline.I have about a zillion more subjects I want to cover, but they are finite, I think. Thanks for the compliment. I don't really want to be a secret,but there are only going to be so many people interested in this subject, and a great number of those are not going to be interested in the exhaustive treatment I am trying to do. I think this is always going to be a novelty act In workshops I used to get this shocked look from casual hobbyists who I had just buried in information,.........Stape

willek said...

I can remember reading that Sargent commenting on a recent painting, apologized for softening an edge by stroking over it. The implication was that he mixed the color and value and applied it to the edge. Have hou ever heard about this instance and this a high value technique?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I have heard that quote but I don't remember where, or any more about it.I think Sargent did a lot of both sorts of edges.Maybe I should do a post dissecting some Sargent edges.He was a master of it and his art is characterized by his control of his edges........Stape