How to Handle the Edges in Your Paintings

Handling the edges in your watercolor paintings

Knowing how to handle edges is an important part of your painting process. Every shape in your painting has an edge. Knowing how to paint them will help in creating a pleasing painting. To do this, you should have soft and hard edges.

Hard and rough edges attract the eye and will lead the viewer along those edges. Hard edges are good to use at or leading to your focal point in your painting. There can be different degrees of hardness.  For example, a hard edge with high contrast has the most pull great for focal areas. A hard edge with less value contrast will have less pull than one with more contrast.  But it will have more pull than one with softer edges.

Soft edges recede. They are good for backgrounds and the outside areas of your paintings. Your eye can travel over instead of along soft edges going into the next shape. An objects edge can have hard and soft edges.

The types of edges and how to achieve them in watercolor.

Rough edges created by using the dry brush technique. Draws the eye with texture and the contrast.

Rough edges created by using the dry brush technique on a closer value creating less contrast. . Draws the eye with texture and the contrast but not as much as our first example because there is less contrast

Hard lines created by painting one section wet on dry and when it is dry painting another section wet on dry beside it.

Soft lines created by painting one section next to another while they are still wet painting another beside it on dry paper.

On the top stroke, I softened the edge almost all the way around (notice where your eye goes) by softly lifting the dry paint with a wet brush. Both strokes were painted on dry paper. You can also soften an edge by blending it out while the paint is still wet.

Hard edge created by painting dry on dry. The soft edge was created by painting wet into wet.

Soft edge painted wet in wet into another color.

Hard edge created by painting dry on dry. Notice how it pulls the eye more than the wet on wet one to the left.  But our eye is not drawn to it as much as the hard edges with the increased contrast on the right.

Even with these two hard edges of the same value, you can see how the color can also play a part in the edges drawing attention. Notice how the vibrancy of the hard blue edge draws the eye more than the black edge.

Use your edges to control the movement or path through your painting

In our example below let’s pretend this is our finished painting. A is our focal area with the hard corner and B is the outer perimeter of our painting.

Controlling edges in watercolor by krista hasson

In the first example B (the outside edge of our painting) is just as hard as our focal area. Notice how your eye travels along this line right out of our painting. Your viewer has nothing to draw their eye back into your painting.

In the second example B (the outside edge of our painting) our edge is softer than our focal area edge. Notice how your eye travels along the hard line and when it hits the softer line it bounces back to the focal area in our painting. Your viewer is back to where you want him to be.

Edge recap:

Hard or rough edges

  • attracts the eye
  • your eye will travel along the hard edges
  • used to help lead viewer where you want them to look
  • used in focal area especially if high contrast is also there
  • hard edges also come forward

Soft edges

  • The eye will travel over these edges into the next shape
  • The eye will not be drawn to these edges like they are to harder ones
  • Are used to depict distance in backgrounds
  • Soft edges recede compared to their harder counterparts
  • Shadowed edges will be softer

Using a variety of edges not only puts you in control of where and what people see in your painting but it also adds interesting passages and places for your viewer’s eye to slow down and rest. So let’s practice those edges!

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have enjoyed your time here.

Cheers, Krista

PS:  Don’t forget to leave your comments below and sharing is always appreciated!

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8 thoughts on “How to Handle the Edges in Your Paintings”

  1. Wow, I’ve never heard of this before and I have read many books and even taken a few classes. Thank you, it’s a good thing to know.

    1. Hi Kim,
      Edges are very important, they can help keep the viewer in the painting, direct the viewer’s eye and create distance just to name a few off the top of my head lol. I am glad you found my article 🙂 Have an awesome night!

  2. Roberta Nagle

    Krista, thanks for explaining these differences. I know I see this but being a novice, I am not able to verbally explain. These tips and exercises put this in a way that is easy to understand. Thanks for the good advice!!

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