Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 Things... About Edges

-Greg Manchess

Stages of Resolution 1, detail

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp about painting is the use of edges. Students often go immobile when I mention that they should vary their edges in a painting. It shuts them down. Most have no real idea of what I mean or even where to start.

It’s not surprising. Controlling edges is an advanced stage of painting that alludes most everyone, until it’s pointed out to them. I had trouble with edges coming up through my skill challenges, too, but as I never had a teacher pointing these things out I had to learn the hard way. From critique, and sometimes, ridicule.

That meant I was learning on the fly, listening to what other artists and critics said about my work that complimented or tormented my efforts to communicate to a viewer; how I guided the viewer’s eye through a piece. I paid extreme attention to what was said about certain passages, certain spaces in my painting, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It hurt, but I learned.

I’m about to cut years of struggle off your painting skills. The items below will shake your understanding and increase your ability to lay down interesting paint by concentrating on edges and not only give your work beauty, but give you a new awareness of control.

1. Contrast edges.
Edge control is built generally from pushing and pulling the eye through a painting. Pushing it back or pulling it forward. It is the contrast between edges that allows you to make shapes important or subtle.

Notice the myriad of edges contrasting each other while defining the forms...

2. Sharp edges.
The easiest to identify. That’s why they pop forward. The brain zeroes in on these edges immediately, so use them to drive the eye to the elements in the painting that have them. The contrast is high with these edges. Set them against soft edges and the sharp ones dominate.

Here, the edge of the shadow and light on the calf is the sharpest line in this detail...

3. Soft edges.
Use these edges to bolster the focus of the painting by pulling the eye away from anything with soft-focus elements. Soft edges lay as a background for sharp edges to sit on top of. Yes, on top of. Background edges that are sharp tend to jump forward. Again, the eye whips past everything soft to focus on the sharp contrast edge.

The cloud edges serve as soft background for the sharper figure edges...

4. Lost edges.
Some of the most beautiful areas of a painting are where the eye expects to see an edge, yet it’s not there. Arms that bleed into the background, a cheek that disappears, edges of hair that are lost. It stimulates interest. This takes lots of risk to learn where and when to use them to full advantage. The risk is ambiguity. The payoff is curiosity and engagement.

The brain wants to complete the edge but must become involved with the piece to accomplish that. This is how a painting lingers in a person’s mind. There’s just enough information to stay focused, but isn’t overwhelming to the eye.

How many lost edges can you find in this detail?

5. Sustained edges.
These are edges that work between edge extremes. Neither too sharp nor too blurred, but with just enough roundness to not carry too much focus in the work. Edges of figures, sleeves, folds, trees, mountains, architecture, etc.

The poles of the railroad crossing structure must not dominate the entire painting by being too sharp...

6. Repeating edges.
These are difficult edges to control because they draw attention to that repetition, and if they are integral to an element, such as leaves, or folds on a sleeve, they can overwhelm the eye. The first thing the viewer needs to do is rest. In other words, look away. This is not what you want from a viewer, just in case you hadn’t figured that out already.

You must find a way to vary these edges to take their power to confuse away. You do this by using sharp and soft and blurred edges. Not matter what your reference tells you is ‘right.’

The shirt had tons of folds in it...I knocked them back, and only picked a few to accent...

7. Shadow.
Shadow control is critical to a successful painting. And they are the greatest teachers for understanding depth, value control, and...oh yeah, edges. Now you get what I mean by soft and sharp edges, yes? What observer hasn’t noticed how shadows vary in such a short range of vision? Look at tree limb shadows on the ground and the information slaps you upside the head. The limbs closest to the ground are sharpest, while the limbs up high cast very light, soft shadows. It’s their edges that communicate this the most.

How a shadow rolls over a surface is determined by several factors. The texture of the element, the shape of the element, the angle of the element. Study a car in different lighting conditions and you’ll find an amazing array of hard and soft edges, all based on how the shapes cast shadows. Control those edges and you’ll have a shiny car or a dull car.

Shadows determine depth in a painting, and that’s portrayed by how you control the shadow edges. 

Shadows on a rainy street in this about a nightmare, but edge control can communicate wet concrete reflecting light....

8. Color.
You can control focus in a painting by using color. The edge between contrasting color can demand attention or allow one color to dominate another. The way those colors bleed into or over each other will draw attention, either away from or toward a subject.

Edges here vary back and forth, but the color pops the edges as well...

9. Ragged edges.
If all of the edges of paint application are the same, it communicates pattern. And this leads to a flat graphic quality. There is no edge control other than to make it all the same. This is completely fine if that’s what you need in a piece. Making all the edges the same everywhere you look will demand that you control focus in another means, say through color or value.

Varying the edges between pattern and rendering can add much interest. It’s the contrast between the two that does it. 

The raggedy flat edges of the hair contrasts against the smoother strokes of the skin....

10. Light edges.
Try painting dappled sunlight without controlling edges. But through careful study of how light streams through leaves and strikes an object will reveal how edges vary between sharp, soft, blurry, lost, and blended. Light tends to flare through a short range of saturated color just on the edge between shadows and lit areas. Notice how the edge can lend interest and depth if captured in a painting. Flare the light with rich color invading the shadow and you gain depth. 

One thin edged calf and one thick...push the color on these edges....also study the light edges in #3 above...

11. Blending strokes.
Brush stroke edges can vary within the stroke itself. The front edge of a stroke can be sharp while the back slips into blurred nothing. Strokes can be short and sharp, or they can be fuzzy like an airbrush. A stroke can go down sharp and be blurred later with a different brush. The difference between a palette knife edge and a brushed edge is evident here.

Different tools give different edges....

12. Texture.
Blending between colors or values gives you a smooth affect. Simple. But you do this at the risk of losing texture and interest if done too evenly. Certainly there are many great paintings that are slick smooth, blended to perfection to give the idea of crisp, clean beauty. But using that same blend on leather, or fabric, or a wall can destroy the effect. The surface texture of an object reflects what the surface is made of. Yes, there are illusions to be aware of, i.e., that plastic resembles glass, etc.

The way the paint is applied makes a huge difference in what’s projected to the viewer. Ever wonder how those artists of the 19th century got those velvet dress effects? Study the evidence in front of you: value and edge control. 

Your eye discerns this all day long, judging edges, surfaces, values, contrasts. The working brain takes about 30% of our energy each day, and most of that is dedicated to visual deciphering.

After a quick application of pigment with a palette knife, one brush did all of this work.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The Last of His Kind" Development Work

By Justin Gerard

"The Last of His Kind"

Drawing on toned paper.

As many of you know or suspect, I prefer watercolor, pencil and digital to working in other mediums. There is a energy and vitality to working with lines that I can't seem to get in other ways.  
Also, watercolor and pencil has become comfortable routine action for me; like making cheese toast, or asking someone else to make me cheese toast.   

Oil Painting on the other hand is something more stressful, like amateur bomb defusal.  (red wire or blue wire? I DON"T KNOW I'M CUTTING ALL THE WIRES)

Still, sometimes I get an image in my head that just won't work with watercolor and pencil. It needs more 'oomph'. And there is nothing like working in oil for achieving oomph. 
And lacking a mast to tie myself to, I cannot ignore the siren song of Rembrandt. So I dig out the Old Holland paints and walnut oil to try my hand at it again. 

So for this week's post I am sharing a work in progress of oil I have been working on. I hope you enjoy. 

Acrylic underpainting on gessoed 11x14 panel

Monochrome oil over the acrylic on panel

The final painting will be available to see in person at the KrabJab show, "Marriage is a Work of Art" debuting April 11. It will be there alongside Annie's gorgeous painting that she will be revealing later this week.  

In Closing: Please remember to observe April Fool's day by asking all your friends what they got their mothers for Mother's Day. 

Monday, March 30, 2015


-By Dan dos Santos

Many of us received Acceptance Letters from Spectrum this past week, while others had to come to terms with having their work rejected.

Obviously, being accepted into Spectrum is a happy occasion, and extremely well deserved. However, dealing with the rejection is a lot more difficult, especially if you've been trying year after year to get in. It's hard not to be discouraged when you feel like you did your best, and it still wasn't good enough. Trust me when I tell you, that feeling NEVER goes away. Rejection always stings.

I was extremely fortunate this year to be accepted into the annual again, and even more fortunate to be nominated for an award.

To the outsider, it may seem that the same professionals get in year after year with ease, while others continually struggle. But that's not entirely true. What you don't see amongst all those joyous acceptance posts on Facebook is the all of work that was rejected from those very same pros.

For every one piece I get in, usually four are rejected. And that's after I've already culled them down to only my best works.

So, I thought it would be enlightening to showcase just some of the work that I submitted to Spectrum this year that did NOT get in.






And this isn't even all of them!

Every one of these pieces, some of which were actually my personal favorites of the year, will NOT be included in this year's annual.

Does that mean they aren't any good? No. Does it mean I'm not any good? No. It just means that these particular pieces didn't entice these particular jurors as a group, enough to garner sufficient votes. In fact, some of these very same pieces may be accepted next year by a different jury.

These rejected pieces also serve to make me more appreciative of what I achieved with the pieces that did get in, noticing qualities in them that I hand't noticed before.

So, in celebration of all those who did NOT get into Spectrum, but keep trying year after year anyways, I salute you! Determination is one of the most important qualities an artist can have, and is an essential ingredient of success. I hope you all take this rejection in stride, and continue to strive for your goals!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Exodus of Giants

-By Petar Meseldzija

The Exodus of Giants, oil on MDF board, 80X55 cm.

I recently finished a painting, titled The Exodus of Giants, that has been commissioned by an art collector from France. It’s a pity I wasn’t able to finish this piece earlier, so that we could include it in my upcoming book on giants. Speaking of The Book of Giants, the book is at the printer right now and is expected to be printed very soon.

However, because this painting depicts an important event described in the story - it’s composition is even based on a few drawings from the book - we decided to try to add this picture to the printed book in some way. We'll see if this works out.

There is a wide spread opinion that a good painting must speak for itself and therefore doesn’t need any explanation, or additional information, in order to be properly experienced by the viewer (whatever that “properly” might mean). While I generally agree, I am at the same time well aware of the limitations imposed by such  a notion. It all depends on the type of painting (art) on one hand, and the spectator’s mindset on the other. It often happens that one is able to experience a painting more fully and to connect with it on a deeper, emotional level if one is aware of the painting’s context, whether historical, social, philosophical, or purely artistic.  Even a little story, or an anecdote, about the artist and the painting’s genesis can trigger an emotional response and unlock the flow of associations in the viewer’s mind. When viewing art we basically deal with symbols and concepts that represent both outer and inner world. Their impact on our psyche is the most important thing. Much of the communication with an art object happens at the unconscious level, and the more emotions involved in this "interaction", the stronger the bond with that piece of art. This is quite obvious.

When I showed this painting for the first time, a few persons responded by asking: “Where do they get those furs?” Somebody else commented: ”I think you should be aware that giants would have to have a very different muscular and skeletal structure, otherwise they would be crashed under their own weight.”

One experiences art, like all other things, as one wants, or must. Every time you show your art work to the public you throw yourself before the lions, so to speak. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you are able to withstand whatever the audience throws at you, both good and bad. It can break you, but it can also help you grow, we all know that. Nevertheless, there are situations in which a kind of short sightedness and narrow-mindedness becomes apparent. I believe this can be corrected  to a certain degree by giving an appropriate explanation, or sharing a related story that can inspire and stimulate the public to expend its view.

When it comes to having a “proper” experience of art that deals with mythological themes I can say the following - before entering a mythological realm, which is a place situated deep within the human psyche, for the Unconscious is the birthplace of myth, one is required to leave one's usual logic and rational thinking behind. It's of no use there for these "imaginary" worlds have their own reality, their own laws, and their own logic. Therefore, use your imagination and harness your dreams. But, beware of a deadly danger lurking in the shadows…You might come across your true self down there. ...At least that is my own experience.

At the end, and with the hope that you will experience this painting “properly”, and not ask about the furs, or G-force, here is a short part from The Book of Giants that inspired the painting's creation:

Alas, the giants had overestimated their own strength and were eventually defeated by the gods. Many were slain in battle, while the rest fled into deep cracks and hollows under the mountains, disappearing from the face of the world for a long period of time. After many years spent in their somber refuge, the giants discovered the existence of an unknown land. This green and lush country was hidden behind an invisible barrier for so long that even the gods had forgotten it. But not all giants dared to leave the relative safety of their underground shelters and chose instead to stay. Those who did immigrate to the new land found a safe haven, which allowed them to walk freely in the daylight once again. This is known as the first exodus of giants.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

“The Art of David Palumbo” Exhibit at University of the Arts, Philadelphia

David Palumbo

Apart from whatever I can bring with me to conventions (and those seem fewer and fewer each year for me), it is a rare moment for me to have a showing of my illustration work.  For that reason, I’m very proud and excited about my exhibition just installed at the Richard C. von Hess Gallery at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  This has been in the works for awhile now and the result is a collection of many of my favorite paintings and preliminary roughs from recent years.

I’ve written in the past about finding one's vision as an artist and, for me, this show is something of a marker in the progress that I feel I’ve personally made.  My biggest step to date came just over three years ago when I made a commitment to embrace the physical nature of my medium and to direct my emphasis towards the emotional and atmospheric side of my images whenever possible.  I wanted to loosen my grip on what I had imagined was expected of a fantasy illustrator (both in content and in technique) and instead place my focus on what I personally found most engaging.  My success in doing that has varied of course, but I gradually am able to see the path a bit clearer with every new piece.

Assembling this exhibit was an interesting review along those lines.  I always feel the most difficult artist to classify is one’s self.  We know more or less what to expect from our heroes, idols, and peers.  Whether through things like genre, palette, technique, and even style of story telling, the identities of other artists always seem so apparent while our own can feel so elusive.  My theory has long been that this is because we assess other artists on the work they have done, which is finite, but we assess ourselves on the work we aim to do and the many potential places which that may lead.  It is a bit strange to fill a room with the places I‘ve been in order to say something about where I am trying to go, but I all in all I feel pretty good about it.

Photo by Ralph Giguere

For anyone in the Philadelphia area who wants to see the show, it runs from now until May 17th with a presentation this coming Thursday on some of the above themes of progression and voice followed by the opening reception.  I hope anyone interested is able to stop in!  

Public Presentation: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 1- 2:30 p.m., CBS Auditorium
Reception: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 3 - 4 p.m., von Hess Illustration Gallery

Anderson Hall
333 S Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
United States

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Questions

Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol and Melian     in progress     110" x 62"     Oil on linen

by Donato

Another couple of weeks have past since my last post and I am still in the middle of a large commissioned oil painting, my most complex ever.  Although it would be great to keep updates on every process development, I find that I am not taking many image shots as the work proceeds.  Not from any lack of interest in documenting the painting, but rather my desire and focus while involved with this work has different needs for me.

I entered illustration and a career in oil painting because of my love to bring forth images which swirl away in my mind.  It is thrilling to make them real, and even better to share them with a sympathetic audience.  But the heart of why I am an artist is that I love to work, to spend a day in the studio creating.  That is what is driving me now, the need to create - not to socialize, develop new concepts, prepare for a convention, nor think about what the future may bring in my art.  Right now I am focused on what is in front of me...and it makes me extremely happy.

This state of mind makes me reflect on words of wisdom from Leo Tolstoy, through Three Questions (by way of introduction through a beautifully illustrated Children's book  by Jon J. Muth)
It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.
The rest of the tale is here.

Following the lesson of Tolstoy, I find my most important time is now in the studio.  The right people to be with is no one, but rather to be alone. And the most important thing to do is to paint, today and everyday for the next month until this work is finished.

My apologies for this if it makes for dull posting in the next weeks, but this is the path I see to avoiding failure...

I wish you the best in your pursuit of answers to these Three Questions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kissy kissy

By Jesper Ejsing

Recently I have been traveling to conventions and meeting people and spent way too little time in the studio with my butt in the chair and painting. One of my latest published pictures that I am very fond of is this lovely girl. She is a cover figure for Paizos Pathfinder adventure path #92.

I really love, That Sarah Robinson, the fantastic art director at Paizo, let me go with the very voluptuous anatomy instead of beeing affraid of it offending people. During the last couple of years there has been a lot of discussions on how we portrait women as half naked sex objects in fantasy. I am proud to have made a picture that pulls the average in another direction. In this specific drawing i wanted her to look smiling and selfconsious rather than yet another sexy looking female enemy.

In my sketch she had a bundle of dwarf heads on her shoulders, but they were switch for a shield/shoulder plate to better fit with the story.

I tried to give her head a different facial structure to make her not look like a human. when you have no background to show scale you have to use something else to potrait the Giant-ness. I pulled the eyes apart and gave her a large round and gnarled forehead. Somehow she becomes a little fish-like with the small eyes apart like that.