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Previously we have been taking a look at Tonal Values along with various aspects of Colour and Colour Mixing. If you have recently signed up for a Free Demo you can view this previous content at the other blogs posted listed below.

This post is the first of three on my discovery, after many years of my own practice and tutoring 100’s of students, of a subject that will immediately take your painting to the next level.

The topic is edges!

I would say it is the final piece of the painting puzzle, once there is a foundation of composition, shapes, tonal values & colour. It is the final Primary Principle (hence the title of the first Course of the Masterclass Series).

Don’t forget, we will be taking a really deep dive into all these principles and much more, as well as looking at how to practically apply them, in the upcoming Watercolour Masterclass Series. This will only be running once a year so if you are interested, be sure to hop over and take a closer look at this link.

Let’s start by defining what we mean by edges.

In simple terms, it is how we see a transition from one area to another.

This could be from one plane of an object to another, the transition from one object to another, or between object and background. Essentially, how are we seeing the edge between the two?

Some examples:

Take the cube below. The edges between the different planes of the cube are very sharp. The transition is distinct. We call this a hard edge.

Take a cube, round off the edges slightly and the transition between planes is still visible, but it is less distinct, therefore not as sharp.

If we take this rounding all the way through to a smooth sphere where there is no discernible edge at all, then the edges are so soft they are non-existent. We can call this a lost edge.

So for me there are 3 edge types to consider: hard, soft and lost.

Let’s look at some examples of the relationship between an object and its background (the same will apply to two overlapping objects or areas also).

In the diagram above the light front edge of the cube, against a darker background, creates a very strong and defined transition between object and background. This is a hard edge. Where the tone of the background and the tone of the cube are much closer together we get the "feeling" of a soft edge. It is visible, but less defined – softer. And finally, where the tone of the object is very close to – or the same as – the tone of the background, we cannot see any real definition in the transition between the two. We have a lost edge. The diagram shows that there are varying degrees of soft and lost edges depending on the degree of contrast between any two areas.

Of course, we can have edges dependent on colour, or even texture, but the same overall principles apply, e.g. is it hard, soft (how soft?), or lost? For the most part, I find considering edges in terms of tonal values to be the most useful – and easiest to understand – approach, and the simplest to execute successfully in our paintings! Based on this understanding of edges in relation to tonal values, our consideration for how to actually paint different edges falls into two categories: Firstly we have Optical Edges: I use this term to explain the illusion of placing different contrasts of tone next to each other, exactly as we have seen in the above diagrams. We are not blending the paint, rather we are using tone to give the optical illusion of different edge types. Big contrasts in tone create harder edges, whilst increasingly similar tonal values placed next to each other create increasingly softer edges, eventually leading through to lost edges. Secondly, we have Physical Edges: In this case we use the beautiful properties of watercolour to help us create a wide range of different edges! I call these Physical Edges simply because we are using the physical properties of the medium to create different edge types.

We will be taking a very in depth look at the properties of watercolour and the many ways we can use it to create different effects in the Essential Elements Course of the Masterclass Series. In short, it is the interaction between the wetness of the page and the amount of water and pigment in our brush that is the key to creating a wonderful array of different edges. The wetter page gives lots of lovely lost and very soft edges. As the page gets drier, we get increasingly harder edges. Learning to be aware of how wet an existing wash is, allows us to manipulate these edges with watercolour, and it is truly one of the real joys of the medium! Combine this with an understanding and “feeling” for how much pigment and water is in the brush and we can really begin to explore whilst having a lot of fun!! It is the above two properties and the relationship between the two, that for me separates watercolour from oils and acrylics. It is where the excitement of watercolour lies (and also at times the frustration). It is where watercolour takes on a life of its own – why it is often said we paint alongside watercolours, not with them! That’s it for this post. In the next, we will look at why a variety of edges can be so important and how we can use them in our paintings. Kind Regards Tom

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