Hard and soft edges

I spend a lot of time on the internet, scouring for quality art instruction, interesting blogs, inspiring paintings, art tools etc. A lot of that time is probably wasted and better spent practicing art, but sometimes I discover things that makes all that time worth it. 

Today I discovered an interview of Alvaro Castagnet in which he talks a little bit about his process. He talks about using the push and pull of warm and cool colors, dark and light values, hard and soft edges to create interest in your painting. He talks about using charcoal sketches to design the paintings, with respect to values as well as edge quality.

I never thought of edge quality as such an important element in painting, but he is totally right. I used to paint almost everything with hard edges, and it used to sort of turn into paint-by-numbers. I am happy that I am able to break out of that mold and explore painting across shapes.

In the charcoal sketch below, I explored merging the body of the chicken into the background, and leave the head of the chicken as the focus, with the highest contrast as well as hard edges. 

When I was satisfied with the sketch, I made a quick plan of the colors I was going to use, and the process I was going to use to paint. I made a first wash painting all across the paper, around the areas that I want to leave white, but otherwise covering most of the other surface with color. With my second wash I picked out some areas and added deeper color, or added contours. Then I flooded in the color for the head, and added some calligraphic marks on the tail.

I learned a lot from this 20 minute exercise :

  • Edge quality adds a lot of interest to painting.
  • Painting across shapes unifies the painting, and makes it look less like an illustration.
  • Charcoal sketch is very useful not just to explore value patterns, but also edge quality in the design.
  • My calligraphic marks are terrible and need a lot of work :-)
  • I don't have a very good sense of what value a color mixture is, and as a result the values in the painting are quite dull. I need to practice in order to train my eye for this.

This is not a great painting, I agree. But I am really proud of it because I broke some bad habits, and did some new things. Now I just need keep pressing forward. I am especially proud of the painting because it looks so little like the original (a reference from wetcanvas) !