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And now time for a serious philosophical and compositional discussion :) .  I have received some feedback, more than once, regarding my use of well defined edges away from the focal point.  Most of it is to the effect that I should soften edges so that the eye is not drawn away from the focal point.  I actually agree with that idea.  However, I seldom use it.  When I was in Austin, Mark expressed the opinion that we should not fuzz everything up in the background and etc because the eye will focus on it when we look there in real life (I am paraphrasing and probably did not get that exactly right).  If you paint a picture with only the focal point well defined (in focus) and everything else soft focused or out of focus like a photograph, then the eye is drawn back to the focal point.  This seems like a good thing, and I like it, but only if there really is nothing else in the picture to see.  There are so many examples I don't want to flood the thread with pictures but I will offer two examples.
Here the artist, Jean Tibbles, has only focused on the triangle of the eyes-nose and mouth.  Everything else is not as defined.  Its there, just not sharp.  Its an exceptional portrait.
If you check his personal site you will see he also does portraits with everything in focus.
Then there are things like this from Vermeer.  Every edge has the same degree of focus.  So I ask two things, 1: What is your opinion of this?  and 2: Why do I keep hearing about this?  Is it a modern affectation due to the prevalence of photography? 


  • Wow thats a great painting. Sorry i dont really any other thoughts to contribute! 
  • edited June 4
    I think it's a matter of taste. Both approaches can produce fine paintings. It depends on how impressionistic one wants to be. But even in the Vermeer above there are a few soft (and even lost) edges without which the picture would lose some of its magical realism. 
  • I've had only two art teachers in my life. One in Junior High and the second two years later in High School. Both were college trained and both said of my drawings they were too well defined. They didn't offer the same explanation of "drawing the eye away from the focal point" what they said was "it isn't art". Both often encouraged us to exaggerate proportions and use brighter colors to add artistic elements. In my mind painting realism (as we define it here on the forum) is the highest form of art. It doesn't have to be "photo-realistic" and there is room for abstraction the way Mark Carder teaches and even some impressionism but it has to be more than a representation (for me) to be regarded as realism. When I comment on a members painting that I think a line is over-defined I mean I think the line is too thick or too dark for the shadow values. I'm not thinking in terms of focal point. So I think  we keep hearing about this because of the university standpoint that doesn't hold my opinion of realism and also partly (maybe equally) to the comparison of paintings to photography as you mentioned. This is all just my opinion and an unlearned opinion at that. I think focal points are determined more by composition than by line definition. There are so many crazy-good painters here including you, M.D., I think we should all "define" line definition for ourselves through our paintings and I hope you and others don't hold back on commenting on whether MY lines are to small, large, muddy or hard.
  • I find the challenge is in determining the degree of edge definition to apply, from very fuzzy/lost through to very sharp/well defined. I tend to take an experimental approach - fuzz it up a bit and stand back and judge it from a distance, then adjust either way as i think necessary (and that applies to drawing as much as painting). Also i think there is a danger if using a photo of copying too faithfully the out of focus 'bokeh', and then just ending up reproducing what a camera lens sees (which tends to make it obvious the source was a photo) rather than your own interpretation. I know I struggle with that. 
  • JPBJPB -
    edited June 10
    This is a pretty crazy technical concept in theory when it's applied to painting (what with optics and cerebral perception, blah blah), and not to mention Vermeer was such a meticulous craftsman, but I'll approach it simply:

    From what I understand, that composition "rhythm", seen in that painting, was more en vogue & took precedence, for a huge amount of time, over any sort of perceived foci that may've come into play (pre-impressionism). The more important subjects were simply more detailed, and it worked then.

    From a practical point of view, I think as long as you've got some balance, itd probably pan out fine. Personally I only juggle 3-4 levels of definition ever, nothing sharp, nothing real "wooly".

    Also, like color balance, it's all sort of subjective. For instance, that Tibbles portrait you cited reads as jarring to me, but who cares it's still a great painting. :smile:
  • It just occurred to me that the soft edges in this portrait, even with parts of the eyes, are what gives it life. She's not a doll or a mannequin. She's a living breathing moving person. The camera snapshot freezes a person in a way that we don't when we interact with each other. This is what makes Sargent's painting more "true to life" than a photo ever could. 
  • edited June 10
    Very well said, and appreciate the analogy used about mastery in painting being like the musical composer that creates the music, soft, loud, fast, slow, quiet and noise, and all those other movements, etc. as you mentioned. Certain poetry can be like this as well. Just like life is moving all the time, never staying the same "one thing". Maybe this is the way that the eye really sees life? Great to hear from you @Martin_J_Crane, welcome, looking forward.
  • @Martin_J_Crane ; thanks for the schooling. I believe you are right about having more than one kind of edge and that's very true what you said about photographs capturing the hard edge. Photographers have been trying all manner of things to soften edges since Kodak got started.
  • I agree, without the soft edges those paintings would not work nearly as well. 
  • SummerSummer -
    edited June 11
    Folks, Does anyone know how many edge techniques there are?  I'd sure hate to miss one--haha.  Here is my list: 1) lost, 2) found, 3) hard, 4) soft, 5) broken, 6) inquiring.  Inquiring is my favorite because it fits in with the alla prima painting method, Mark's method, and it's the most fun to create and look at.   Summer
  • SummerSummer -
    edited June 11
    I just found another one.  A close-value edge technique.  It's when two adjacent areas are close in value when they could easily be more far apart.  A reason to mix more puddles you think?   :#

  • @Martin_J_Crane ,  I believe you nailed it about the edges. glad to see you back. Lookin forward to seeing more of your work. 
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