In a previous post I talked about rules and how they ultimately restrict you and make your work very repetitive. Please, if you haven’t done so, go back and read that one. If not, you may miss some context.
Repetition is the evil step child of rules. The technical term for this is boring. The point of being an artist is creativity. The death knell tolls when artists mimic themselves, consciously or not. I refer to this as the ” what would I do, if I were me” syndrome. It’s the twilight zone straddling personal style and self imitation.
A major pet peeve rule, for me, is the one pertaining to edges. It goes like this: Squint at your subject matter. Where you see high contrast, paint those edges sharply and where the values are close together, soften or blur those edges. I’m sure you’ve heard this one ad infinitum. Edge handling is the most misunderstood term in the painters lexicon. Greatness and edge mastery are inexorably linked. This is but the first of many blog posts dedicated to the subject. Edge handling, at it’s best. has the potential to be poetically innovative while subtly enhancing the illusion of reality and orchestrating the movement of the viewer’s eye. Why throw away the potential for superior picture-making by adhering to some limiting dictum? Unfortunately, far to often, edges fall under the curse of the formulaic and heavy-handed.
I object to this rule for many reasons. It fuels robotic repetition. But the biggest problem for me is you can easily wind up with a sharp edge around the contour of your form. Since sharpness comes forward, the edge of the form will come to the front? If you want to create the illusion of depth and space in a painting, you need to understand visual perception. If the contour of a form has the sharpest edge, the form flattens. Juxtapose a soft edge with a hard one and the hard edge comes forward. The softer of the two always recedes. Sharp edges on contours gives a photographic look because a camera has only one eye (the lens). Since we view the world through binocular vision contours of rounded objects appear softer. Photographs are intrinsically flat. So even though something is painted with vigor, the resulting painting will still have a photographic look.
On the other hand, if you want to have a painting that simulates illusionistic space, simulate human vision. In this example, a detail of a portrait painted of Herman Doomer by Rembrandt, you can see how the interior forms of the face are painted more sharply, and–as the form turns away–the edges become relatively softer. Compare the sharpness of his right eye and nose, with the softness of his right ear. Interestingly, look at the super hard edge on the contour of the cape he’s wearing, on his left shoulder, in the full image. (See top of article.) See how it comes forward. In later paintings this rarely happened. Even Rembrandt wasn’t hatched fully formed.
Until next time…