Thursday, April 10, 2014

Intermediate Watercolor: Where does the painting need hard edges?

When we walk through the world, it is natural to focus on whatever is in our path. We need to know where we'll be safe, after all, and whether that shape up ahead is good to eat. That's the world of content. As we shift our gaze from one object to the next we bring the new part into sharp focus.

When we paint, however, all we need to know is form. How dark is that? What color is it? What portion of that shape is hard-edged? Is that neutral warm, cool or both? Assuming we've set up in a safe enough spot, we can totally forget the demands of the world of meaning. In fact, we have to.

A painting, no matter how realistic, can't carry all the information we can see. We need to edit out most of the specific information that we pay attention to in the "real" world. Much of what we decide to include in a painting is in soft focus, so that we can be in charge of where we want to direct the viewer's attention. If everything is distinct, the painting will almost certainly be difficult to take in. But, how can we decide what is essential and what is optional? That, right there, is the big question.

The best way I've found to tell whether something needs to be in the painting is to leave it out. If you don't miss it, you didn't need it. Regarding distinct edges, then, why not make a study that is entirely soft? No hard edges at all. The finished study would then be a basis for asking where you want to bring something into focus.

I like to place an imaginary limit on how many hard edges I have at my disposal. If I have only three, for example, I'm forced to look very carefully at the painting to see where a hard edge will have the most impact. Proceeding in increments increases the likelihood that I will recognize the moment when I should stop.
Remember, a hard edge is a hard edge, but there are an infinite number of degrees of softness. You don't have to throw up your hands and say "whatever".

Give it a try with the images you brought home, or use one of these:

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