Personal Art Blog

Sharing the lessons I teach at the Artist Guild and the personal discoveries in my art.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Exercises on Painting Edges

John Singer Sargent painted himself at his palette.
In my opinion and many others,
Sargent was a master at painting edges.

For me personally, exploring painting edges is part of the pleasure of using paint.
I am not setting myself up as an expert, but I have had the satisfaction
of seeing my own ability increase through doing the following exercises.
I hope these will be of interest to those artists who do not have the advantage
of having access to a teacher.
I have included a black and white of each to help those who
have problems seeing values in color.
Click on any image to enlarge.

#1. Back-lighting using value and color changes.
We have all seen the sunlight behind a tree or flowers,
illuminating the edges. This is easy with a dark
background, but how do you get it to glow
against a light area?
Shown is both an apple and a shrub.
The principle is the same for both of them.
Place a glowing color on the edges changing down in 
value at least three times before
hitting the core shadow.
Here the light is warm
so I used a warm/temperature on the first layer
going slightly cooler after that.
Do not make the mistake of over blending
these values together. Be careful to step down each
value change with a gentle transition.
Tickle the edges together with the SIDE
 of a soft brush very lightly
if you want a smooth appearance.

#2 Losing an edge using value and/or color changes.

I think this one is important because it prevents the
undesirable, "cookie cutter" look.  See example here.
 I use the term CC
for when a similar
color and value is
all the way around
Usually it also has
the halo, this is where
the artist caries the
paint almost up to
the edge but not quite,
leaving a halo effect

Cookie Cutter and halo.

Make sure to find a place where two values can
merge at an edge.
On the apple below there is a darker blue area against
the shadow side of the apple.
On the shrub, the band of hill color and the shadow
make two areas of similar value changes

#3 Focal Point
The principle here is -  lightest/darkest/sharpest area

Be sure that the main dark
and light has no competition.
Here the shadow side of the
apple and the cast shadow
do not have the same degree
of contrast as the
focal area.  It is still dark but
not to the same degree.
The edges are
different all around the
apple using value and color.

Tomorrow I will show different brush and knife techniques
for edges..


  1. Your blog is such a favorite of mine. Your paintings are absolutely lovely and I always am intrigued by your teaching. Thank you for your generous sharing.

    1. I appreciate that - thank you Sharon.
      I reach out to some artists I help who cannot even figure out how to use the comment page but watch the blog faithfully and then use regular email. If I hadn't had such a patient daughter who showed me the ins and outs I would be like that too.

  2. wow! this is helpful! thank you!

    1. You are generous and I thank you, Lynne. Love your blog.

  3. What a wonderful post and I love Sargent's painting of himself painting too. Your little demo pieces are wonderful. I especially like the instruction on the haloing of colors (first one).

    1. I like this one of Sargent by Sargent, too.
      Glad you found the post informative.
      Love your Christmas wreath painting.

  4. These are great exercises Julie, thanks for sharing. Sargent is one of my favorites too!

    1. He is fabulous isn't he? Glad you enjoyed the blog. You are kind because I know it is what you already know.

  5. It's always nice that another painter will share their tips. You just never know when the knowledge will come in handy or how it might affect your own painting in some way. So, thank you for being so generous:)

    1. Hi Libby - you are right and sometimes it nudges a memory that was dormant. Thanks.

  6. Julie,

    This is such a valuable (no pun) lesson. Thank you so very much for sharing your expertise once again.

  7. This was a real learning experience. I am not sure how I tackle edges. So much is just instinct when I paint. Sometimes I do think about pulling thing forward and blending some things into the background. I am sure I will think more of it now. Thanks.

    1. Instinct takes over from our combined visual responses to what we like and don't like. We have collected them over our lifetimes so always trust your instincts, Roger.
      I see you using these principles in your art in your technique.

  8. Julie, this is invaluable information - thank you so much! Looking forward to tomorrow's post too.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it.
      I enjoyed seeing your new painting.

  9. You are a born Teacher, Julie! This is such an informative post!

    1. You are great Hilda - and I love you for your support.

  10. This is wonderful, Julie. Thank you so much for the valuable lesson.

    1. Glad you found it helpful Twwinkle. Thanks for the great comment.

  11. Replies
    1. You are sweet but I know you don't need to read them - you are such a fabulous artist.

  12. Thank you for your super generosity....and sharing these great tips, Julie! Although they are all valuable, my fav is how you explained capturing back-lighting.

    1. Glad you enjoyed that one. I know you know it already but sometimes when it is explained a different way you see it differently.
      Where did you learn to do horses?

  13. Thank you for the lesson. No matter how much instruction one has, there is always, always one more little bit of information said in just a way that you finally hear it. And that is a good thing. You are very generous!

    1. Thanks and how generous you are to put it that way, Helen.

  14. Thank you Julie for these really valuable and helpful advices!! Will be waiting for the next post :)
    Hugs and Smiles.

    1. Thanks for the enthusiastic comment. makes me feel good. thanks.
      Your new posting has some beautiful and sensitive pieces.

  15. I never saw the self portrait of/by Sargent before - Wow! Thanks for showing us. And loved your demo andinstructions on edges - very valuable information!

    1. If you check on the full painting you will be amazed. It is one of my favorites for how to handle white folds.
      You are nice to comment and I appreciate it.

  16. Thanks, Julie, for the reinforcement. It was a great lesson, and I love the follow-up.

    1. I see the painting of your cat on your blog made the newspaper today. It reproduced great showing all your values were spot-on!

  17. Julie, you are remarkable in your knowledge of painting techniques as well as in creating the stunning, breathtaking paintings I look forward to every day. You have a clear and precise way of explaining that hits home every time. I'm one of those artists you mentioned who relies so much on internet wanderings for information on painting. I feel so fortunate and am so blessed to have found your blog where you generously share your techniques and processes.

    1. Well, guess who gets the gold star for best comment!
      Wow - and thank you so much Carol. You have no idea how much it means to me and I send blessings.

  18. wow...what a great lesson...! I'll be reading through all generous of you to share all this...lovely examples and explanations. I'm totally impressed!


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