Painting Tips: Edge Control

One of the key tips I learnt from an art teacher is how to create better, expressive paintings by focusing on edge control. This is true for traditional painting too but becomes more important in digital painting where you can get static, paint-by-numbers effect if you don't have enough variation in your brush strokes (not just your brushes).

Edges in a painting differentiate between one object to another, and within the object, between one shape to another. There are three major types of edges:
  • Hard edges: a sharp transition from one form to another, for eg. the corner of a cube or the shape of a building in a landscape
  • Soft edges: a smoother transition where the edges fade into each other, for eg. the transition of shadows within a sphere or the glow around the moon
  • Lost edges: are transitions where you cannot determine where one edge ends or begins; for example where part of a face fades into the background. These allow the viewer to fill in the gaps created by the "missing" edges

Here's an example of the edges using Arnold Böcklin's Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle (1872). The crisp white collar has a hard edge, the transitions in the skin tone and the skull use a soft edge, and the robe is a great example of a lost edge. The right shoulder just fades into the background and the left corner fades out under the palette, but to our eye, we can still recognize it as a black velvet robe. 

But enough reading, here's an awesome video from Marco Bucci that does a fantastic job in explaining how edges work:

If you found this interesting, I would strongly recommend Marco's Digital Brushwork Techniques course on Skillshare. It's a premium course but you can get two months for free by using this link.  


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