Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Transitioning Edges

One way to achieve a soft, moody look in a painting is to ease the transitions across the edges.

Instead of losing the edge by blurring it, the idea here is to keep the edge sharp, but lighten up to the tones on one side of the edge and darken down to the edge on the other. The edge is there, but it feels softened.


For example, in the Fritz von Uhde painting "Schwerer Gang" above, the roofline of the building is lightened as it approaches the realm of the air. The forms are almost lost as their edges meet the sky. Likewise where the base of the trees and the figures meet the ground, they seem melted into the dark earth.

There’s almost no chroma to this painting, but it has a great feeling of light thanks to the handling of transitions.


J.M.W. Turner’s watercolors partook of this quality more and more as his career progressed. In this picture called “The Dark Rigi,” The mountain range is sharp only at the top, and blurs off at the sides. All the contours are suppressed by means of value transitions. The boats at lower right are absorbed into the blue vapor of the water.

One must guard against getting too carried away with this device, however. Too much of of this “fiberfill treatment” can take the backbone out of a picture, so it should be used deliberately and with purpose.

5 comments:

J. S. Ferguson said...

This is a wonderful post. I haven't given much thought to this technique, but I'm excited at trying to integrate it now that I've been officially introduced. Thanks Mr. Gurney.

phiq said...

Great post, thanks!

beany911 said...

As much as I like this post it would be great if you did a little demo, I'm having a hard time figuring out how I would do this. I've seen this done in paintings before but don't understand how it's done... then again I can't really paint.

susie is dead said...

Thank you for the much-needed info!!

Petr M. said...

Hi James, thank you for a great post. Edges are one of those topics plagued with myths and misunderstanding, and it would be great to hear more no-nonsense advice that you are so good at!

BTW I saw the von Uhde painting in real life (can't remember now if in Berlin or Munich) and it is an extremely powerful piece: it is decidedly "ugly", mud-brown, depressing in its theme, the opposite of an idyll, but the mastery of the painter turns the gloom into a revelation of sorts. The power of truth in art!