Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the EDGE...

Study for Betty Carter (16x8)

Edges -- there are several kind; Soft, Hard, Broken, Lost... Without a variety of edges, a two-dimensional painting will appear either out of focus or as flat as flat can be. Edges of course turn objects in space, and give the illusion of space itself as well as make the subject of a painting relate to it's background plane. Edges also create texture, energy and movement...

In this study sketch, all of the main edge categories are present -- mostly created without much thought by painting rapidly with little investment. One of the joys of painting this way is not worrying about the outcome -- it's a "study" not a final product, so there's plenty of bandwidth for mistakes along with happy accidents -- stuff you leave behind or carry over to the next version. Her cheek on the left side of the picture has a soft to lost edge -- this soft edge turns the curve of her face away from us. Conversely, the drop-shadow of her lower lip casts a hard edge on her chin. Those edges create form. Other edges present in her hair, dress and even the edges of random strokes in the background express energy & movement...

Banjo Player study (detail 16x12)

Broken edges are interrupted lines, either skipped along with repeating staccato-like strokes, scrubbed in with a coarse brush or achieved with a dry brush technique (thicker paint, dragged on lightly). Sometimes a wet-into-wet squiggle will suffice for a broken/soft edge as with the banjo player's shoulder -- this also creates energy within the composition.

Lost edges are just that -- they don't really exist where you know an edge really does. These edges are atmospheric tricks of the eye where the value of one shape runs into the area of another shape without any defining border. These edges are often found within shadow shapes because of the lack of defining light, but can also be used (or exaggerated) in the light areas as well to create moody effects or to help in unifying the subject with it's background. A lost edge gives a receding effect to a shape adding extra dimension to the picture plane, but of all the edges, this one should be used the least -- too many times or in too large an area it can read more gimmicky than believable. Back lit objects have a halo effect of soft and lost edges and are a good exercise to render along with hair or folds in clothing and when studying edges.


  1. really beautiful stuff on this blog Mr.Bowman. I am a definitely a fan !

  2. That study for Betty Carter is amazing. This use and knowledge of light. You know how the "power" of edges :)

  3. Eric your studies are so vibrant and fresh, thanks for sharing them as well as your painting tips. Very nice, make me want to try figure studies again! But then you can make them look so easy! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. great painting and very helpful, concise info on painting technique, Eric. Much appreciated.

  5. Hi Eric - your plein air work is great, your figure work is stunning. Very inspirational - the way you capture gesture, expression, movement.... and thanks for sharing painting info as well! I look forward to following!

  6. I love this study Eric! I really like the lost edges, and the expression is captured perfectly!
    Thanks for sharing!