Painting Edges

I get questions all the time about painting edges.

Edges are a difficult question because you have to consider your audience when you handle them.

I'll just say outright that PPA judges do NOT understand edges the way oil painters do. If you create a competition piece with edges like an oil painter and you don't get one of the handful of judges that "get it" on your panel, you won't score well.

That said, this quick painting of Barbara Breitsameter's image has a pretty good range of the three main kinds of edges oil painters use. Whether you're painting in digital, or in oils, you should always use these techniques...

"Found edges"
These are the "hard" edges that keep your painting from looking too mushy.  You need to choose carefully those edges which define your subjects main features. When painting a portrait it would be a rare instance indeed to soften a jawline. This defining feature should typically be kept "hard".

"Broken edges"
There is enough edge to indicate where the subject starts and stops, and yet it isn't hard. This is used to direct the viewer's eye through the painting. Too many found edges make the eye wander too much. A good balance between found and broken edges is the ideal. Think of it as the depth of field in a camera lens... sorta.

"Lost edges" This is considered HIGHLY SKILLED in an oil painting. It is very, VERY desirable! However, PPA judges really have a hard time -- especially with this one, so proceed with caution! I do this in client work as a rule as it most accurately mimics REAL paint. And after all -- isn't that our goal?

I learned this tip from my good friend Heather the Painter who heard this tip from a highly skilled oil artist over a decade ago.  It absolutely rings true every time!

If you want to add a separator light with a hard edge to give some separation/pop/interest so the subject doesn’t blend into the background pick the top part of one side of the ear or an empty part of the neck (for a person with short hair —- or ears). This little pop of interest should always be on the opposite side of catchlight. It works every time in a painting! 

If you don’t vary your edges everything looks “matchy, matchy” or to put it more bluntly --  it looks like “amateur hour”. 

Placing the edges in strategic places is important!