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HOW TO take your PAINTINGS to the next level

This post is the 2nd instalment of 3 on the topic of edges. To recap, we discussed how considering edges can immediately take the quality of your painting up a level.

This is a long one but I promise if you take the time to read it carefully it should really help your painting!

We took a brief look at what edges are, why they occur, and also the ways to go about painting them. Be sure to checkout the previous posts, listed below this one.


First off, why are edges so important? In simple terms, they are another way of creating contrast and variety within a painting, keeping it interesting and engaging for the viewer (even if the viewer is only you!).

If a musical arrangement was the same volume, tempo and tone throughout, with all the instruments given the same level of importance at all times, the music would likely end up uninteresting. We need changes of volume – quiet and loud periods – changes of tempo and rhythm, times when one instrument sings out over the rest, and other times when they gel in perfect harmony. A painting is exactly the same. Variety and contrast are powerful tools. We can have contrast and variation of light and shadow, dark and light (tonal values); contrasts and harmonies of colour, texture, lines and blocks of colour; shape, style, and size, brushstrokes and so on...and of course, we have contrast of edges. For example, paintings where all the edges are very defined and hard has a particular feel to it and often little depth or subtlety. Nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination. Equally though, a painting where all the edges are soft and lost can leave us uninterested; the eye and mind wants at least a little something to grab and get stuck into. So a variation of edges, whilst not essential in creating a working painting, is wonderful tool, and a very powerful one!

Learning to manipulate and paint different edges can help us to move the viewer’s eye around a piece, telling the viewer where to look. Imagine the power and lure of a sharply focused, hard-edged area amid a painting that is predominately soft and lost!? Or vice versa.

Edges can be used to create depth, atmosphere and mood.

We can enhance or change the feeling of the light – sharp or hazy, bright or dull.

We can also use edges to meld and push together areas or shapes of similar or the same tonal value.

This creates large underlying patterns of luminosity and shadow in a painting – one of the keys to building strong compositions and creating that feeling of light which so many of us are chasing!

Whilst these may all sound like “advanced” topics. They are not!

Variation of edges will immediately give a more sophisticated and subtle feel to a painting, but the concept and execution of varying edges is very simple!

Of course, like so much of painting, practice and confidence help, but after teaching 100s if not 1000s of students over the last 10 plus years, I have found that simply talking about edges, and then encouraging students to start considering edges in their own work makes an immediate difference to their paintings!

I find consideration of edges in terms of tonal values to be of the most use in the type of representational painting we are discussing here.

As always, let’s boil it down to the simplest terminology and definitions.