Lost and Found Edges


  Lost and found edges

One thing you can do which enhances your painting enormously is to avoid hard edges around every object or figure. Hard edges make each thing look cut out and stuck on, and give a harsh “painting by numbers” feel.

In reality, when you look at a scene you don’t see the edges of each thing as it overlaps the next – the dark side of an object or figure could well be partially against a dark background; similarly the highlighted side of something could partly be against a light part of the background.

liu yi 3

In the wonderful painting above by Liu Yi, the edges ( and tones) are masterfully controlled, so that there are lost and found ( soft and hard) edges- the contrasting edges draw our attention, while the soft edges blend the dancer into her background. She no longer seems cut out and stuck on.

If you deliberately merge part of the edge of each object into what is behind it your painting will instantly look more “painterly” and professional.

You can and should keep the areas of greatest contrast to your focal area. The tonal contrast draws the eye there.

This gives a now-you-see-it, now you don’t effect which can be very useful – if you deliberately put the greatest contrast at your focal point ( a face, a building, a boat, an animal) you will draw the viewer’s attention to it which is just what you want.

Another advantage of not having hard edges around each thing is that they will sit comfortably in their background. Many amateur paintings fail because objects or people are completely hard-edged, as if they have been cut out and stuck on – compare the very hard edges on this less-well painted ballerina: she actually looks as if she has been ironed flat! instead of sitting in her 3-D space as the above painting does:

hard edges


So when painting, or buying or selling art online, one painterly thing to look for is lost and found edges.  In representational painting it is a sign of skill and quality.

Look on Google Images for paintings by masters such as Thomas Schaller, Alvaro Castagnet, John Yardley, Degas, Hazel Soan, David Bellamy and see how often a dark edge merges into a dark or a light edge merges into a light area, and the area of greatest contrast draws the eye to the focal area.


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