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Learn to Paint Watercolor: Edges:
(How Understanding Edges Improves Paintings)
I had to learn to paint (and understand) watercolor edges because I hated my early watercolor paintings.
They looked terrible: unreal, flat, and “stuck on” images.
In fact, nothing says “beginner painter” more than a painting (in any medium) where all the painted edges are hard edges.
WAIT: What is “an edge”?
First, learn to “see” an edge
(But, if you would rather learn the definition of edges, you can start here.)
Squint to See Edges
How Does Squinting Work?
- changes the shape of the eye taking so what you look at goes out of focus.
- reduces the amount of light entering the eye so much of the color is removed
- therefore, gives the subject in view a soft monochrome appearance.
- the forms are more monochromatic (greyed)
- and the variation between hard and soft edges and light and dark values becomes more apparent.
Squinting works whether you look at your subject or at your painting.
Usually you want to squint at your subject, but open your eyes to look at your painting.
Squint to see values
Open your eyes to see color
Squint to learn see different edges in this master painting.
Squint and then follow along the “outline” of the face…or sleeve
Do you see the edges?
Learn to Paint Watercolor: Four Types of Edges
Edges are discussed as 4 types: Hard and Soft, and Lost and Found.
A hard edge
- means that the edge of an object is painted in a well defined or definite way
- is very easy to see
- tells where an object ends
- can make an area “pop”
- is the most attention-grabbing
- tells you that an object is close to you, because it is more in focus (therefore, the edges appear sharper).
When Hard Edges are Great
- Objects are clearly defined with no sense of being out of focus.
- rocky mountains
Becoming a Better Painter
- It is important to be very conservative when you paint hard edges.
- selectively choose only very few hard edges in your painting where you want to direct attention.
A soft edge
- disappears or fades into the background
- is the natural blur that exists in round forms.
- makes the contour of forms become completely lost, leaving little or no definition.
- create the illusion of the objects receding into the distance,
When Soft Edges are Great:
- The edge is recognizable, but blurry.
- Distant trees and evergreens in backgrounds
- Distant hills
- Things in the peripheral areas of a painting
- Water reflections
- Foliage in the last plane in your background
- Ethereal cumulous clouds
- Realistic waterfalls that appear to be moving
- Crashing waves in seascapes
A Lost Edge is a Soft Edge that exists between two tonal values so similar that the edge completely disappears.
Lost edges occur
- between the shaded area of an object (form shadow) and its cast shadow (especially in a shaded environment).
- in a High Key (Light) painting when the light is so washed out, many of the details, including the edges get lost.
The Found Edge is an edge that picks up out of the Lost Edge area.
A Found Edge can be soft or hard. The distinction is that it exists because of Lost Edges around it.
It is easy to Paint ALL HARD EDGES in watercolor
Hard, sharp, crisp lined edges will always be created when you paint upon a perfectly dry paper.
If it is dry paper, the edges will be sharp and hard.
It is also easy to Paint ALL SOFT EDGES in Watercolor
You will always create a soft, blurred edge when you apply paint to a very wet paper surface:
You paint “wet into wet” (paint on wet paper).
A painting is far more interesting when you paint A VARIETY of edges.
Depth and perspective are created by contrasting hard, sharp edges (which give the illusion of nearness) with soft edges (which suggest distance).
How to Learn to Paint Watercolor:Edges
One way to make sure you have a variety of edges is to wet your paper at the beginning of the painting and continue working on it as the paper is drying.
Your edges will get more and more precise as the paper is drying.
Do not get discouraged. This takes learning and then lots of practice.
Zbuvick is a master of painting with watercolors as the paper is drying. His edges get harder as the paper dries (you tube)
Now look at your favorite master paintings and notice:
- that face the light source tend to be hard
- that face away from the light tend to be soft
- in shadow tend to be softer than edges in light
- are hardest where you want to draw attention
- softening edges merges adjacent objects
- on figures are harder on boney parts and softer on fleshy parts
Next, read this post to learn how to create soft edges in watercolor