Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Painting Across Edges

Alexandre asks:
"I heard you mention several times in Gouache in the Wild (including the painting of the liquor store sign) this idea of 'painting across' edges. What do you mean by 'the secret to gouache is to paint across edges?' Why? What does it do? Is it true with watercolour / acrylic / casein? Why or why not?"

Alexandre: Yes, good question and thanks for asking. That advice applies to any opaque paint, whether gouache, casein, acrylic or oil.

A lot of students when they're learning to paint will do a preliminary outline drawing and then paint right up to the lines. That's fine for a coloring book, but in an opaque painting, it looks weak and timid. And it's hard to get a variety of hard and soft edges that way.

The reason people do that is that they're afraid of covering up and losing their careful drawing under the opaque paint.

Instead, I want the painting to look like one form is painted actively on top of, or in front of, another.

So let's say you're painting a house in gouache. You might paint the sky first, and paint that sky a little past the edge of the roofline, feathering the paint so that you can just barely see your guidelines.

Then when the sky is done and you're painting the house, you can paint back over the line a bit. That sequence of background first and foreground second is the normal sequence for illusionistic painting in gouache. I often call it "background to foreground" or "B2F."

Alternately, you can paint the tones of foreground objects first, and then "cut in" the background second, as I did in this demo for Casein in the Wild. For this one, I painted the sun gradation first in the studio across the whole surface of the page and then painted the light sky and street tones over it on location.

(Link to YouTube)

In actual practice, most paintings are a combination of "B2F" and "F2B." But either way I'm painting across the outlines. When you paint one form positively over another, you can soften or blend the edges as you go. The end result is a sense of joyful discovery in the technique, which I sometimes call "finding it in the paint."

Check out paintings by John Singer Sargent or Anders Zorn to see this principle in action.

With transparent watercolor, it's a little different because you can't really cover up something that you laid down first. Let me save that case for another post.
Downloadable video tutorials: Gouache in the Wild and Casein in the Wild.
They're also available as DVDs on Amazon.


Stephen Berry said...

I’ll be very interested to hear your input on watercolors. If you’re painting light to dark, you can definitely cut your edges and layer your shapes, but it requires more plannning, because you can _only_ go light to dark.

Joel Fletcher said...

Nice post! Painting across the edges is the way to go, if at all possible.

Oddly enough, there are a lot of artists, including well-known professionals, who do not follow this methodology. Some make no attempt at all to paint across the edges, with obvious background brushstrokes swerving around the foreground object. Its a "look" I suppose. That approach is fine for quick work under a time constraint, but for a serious studio painting, I think it looks distracting and calls attention to itself.

bernicky said...

Thank you Alexandre for asking and thank you Mr. Gurney for that explanation.

Patricia Wafer said...

Great post. I have a dumb question? In your example of the sky and the roof is it best to wait until the sky is completely dry before painting the roof?

James Gurney said...

Patricia, Yes, usually. With gouache or casein, it usually dries up right away. With oil, you can paint over a previous semi-dry layer unless it's really thick and goopy. If you want the edge to be soft, painting over wet paint can help you achieve desirable soft edges.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi James, so because we're talking about edges and gouache, I have a question for you... I'm going crazy painting foliage cast shadows on houses, rooftop and foreground. I think I miss something, when I look at some of your or Nathan Fowkes' sketches the shadows seems so realistic. I can't understand how to approach. I believe there's some perspective I can't identify and some subtle variation in edges and value/temp that I still can't see. Do you careful draw them in advance? Is there some empirical rule you would share? :)
Thank you James!

Jayson said...

What's the main advice for people like me who are afraid of losing the structure of the original lines? I feel I put a lot of effort into that and I frequently get lost with out them

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot for this post and for answering my question James. Very much appreciated :-)