Sunday, April 19, 2009

More about edges.

This is a Vermeer called The Girl in the Red Hat. This is of course a really great little head.
Vermeer was a master of edges and we can learn a lot from him. I chose Vermeer because he
often uses a great number of very soft edges.

I am sorry this post published late today. Other people were bad. Actually sometimes blogger screws up the html and the type comes out in sizes I don't want after I use large type to highlight a thought. I am not good enough at working in html to fix it, although I do waste valuable daylight to trying. So today if the type sizees are screwed up I apologize. When my wife gets the time, I will turn her loose on the html and she will buff it up . Pretend its the large print edition.

I can think of four different purposes served by controlling your edges. They are;

  • Expression of the turning edge away from the viewer.This also includes declaring variations in the drawing that occur on that turning edge, such as we saw with that malar bone in yesterdays post.
  • Pushing forms back or pulling them forward to establish their position relative to the other forms surrounding them.
  • Directing the viewers attention through our painting. That is, subordinating a less important passage by using a soft series of edges, to an area you wish to be dominant, where you will use a harder edge.
  • Obtaining rhythm and variety throughout a painting by making your edges part of your design machinery.
These all are decisions you make, by filtering the appearance of nature through your intentions.

You can not "observe" fine handling of edges into your painting. You must, observe, think and then decide, how you will handle each edge.

This whole head is a dance of hard and soft and lost and found edges. Let me point a few of those out to you. I know I did this yesterday but I would like to run another example by you. I think after this you will look for handling of edges in paintings when you see them . Here we go:

At point A we have the collar, a hard edge. It draws the eye there. It is the point from which the head launches and is our starting point for reading it. The hard edge here also gives a counterbalance to the face over on the right. Above it at B, the hair disappears into the background. The hair and the back of the head is secondary to the face so it is soft pedaled, it also needs to give the idea of its going around, out of our vision.

Point C above that, has, I think, the same purpose as the edge at A that is, it is a sort of accent. That of course is only part of its purpose. The edges if all soft would give a flaccid look to the painting so you have to get some hard ones in somewhere. A painting should be an artistic arrangement of hard and soft edges. An arrangement deliberately made by controlling and not merely observing the edges in nature.

Below D where it is soft, Vermeer hardens the edge up as it nears the ear and throws a hard edge where the jaw sits proud in front of the neck. The hard edge pulls it forward and separates it from the neck behind. As the line slides down to E he softens the jawline where it and the neck merge together softly.

Lastly at F, notice this whole passage is soft except for the hard edge on the right side of the pupil. That's where he wants you to look. It is the lead player on the stage which is the eye. Not everybody on the stage can be the star, some must be relegated to a supporting role. If everything in a passage, or an entire picture is handled with equal attention you get a busy and hard to perceive painting, lacking unity, as each diverse part calls for our attention over its neighbor.
More tomorrow on edges.


Unknown said...

Another good example, thanks! I also like the softness of the lion head chair. The way Vermeer dappled the highlights on it makes it almost look like what a camera lens does to out of focus highlights.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There has been much said and written about Vermeers use of a camera obscura, a sort of camera without film. I have a friend who has for years built and experimented with them.
Did you know that Vermeer was pretty much forgotten until the beginning of the 20th century. His little lace maker in the Louvre was known, but many of his other paintings actually bore the signatures of other, more commercially viable artists such as Peter DeHooch. I have wondered if his appeal grew when photography became common and the "photographic" realism of Vermeer took on a new importance for viewers.
I own a camera, but I can't paint like Vermeer incidentally..

jeff said...

I used to live in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the National gallery they have two early Vermeer', religious paintings and the figures are almost life size. His work was not always the work we have come to know and love. By the way they are very fine paintings.

The thing is he still had to paint the paintings, camera obscura or camera lucida aside, he still made them. I for one don't think he used them to make the works. I think like a lot people in his circle of the time optics were becoming better and there was a fascination with them. Also I think I read somewhere that his neighbor made lenses for various gadgets.
This web site has a lot of great information on Vermeer.

The guy who started that site is a pretty good painter himself.

Stapleton Kearns said...


This whole camera obscura thing has a "gotcha" element to it it. People like David Hockney seem to dismiss Vermeer, and with him most other historic painting as somehow suspect and cheated into existence. The whole thing has become political.
As I said before, I have a friend who has spent years building camera obscurae and studying this.Maybe I need to do some posts on him . He grinds lenses and studies old treatises etc. He believes that Vermeer, although familiar with the machine did not rely heavily on it to make his art. I don't have the expertise to know and other than to listen to the competing arguments and scratch my head. I know that the camera obscura doesn't explain Rubens.

Hans Van Meegren the Dutch forger of Vermeer during WWII filled in the historic gap between the religious Vermeers and the interiors. His large paintings were believable for scholars of the day who expected such things to exist.
I will have to return to the study Vermeer some more. Since I last really studied him there is so much new scholarship. When I learned about Vermeer as a student he was called the Sphinx of Delft, as so little was know about him.
He was a great artist but not one on whom I have particularly modeled my painting.
There have been in recent years a great many artists making Vermeer like interiors thatI have thought souless and overly literal. Many of these guys have come from the Boston School tradition and have worked sight size...Stape