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Using hard and soft edges in your painting does give depth and definition to your subject but more importantly these  edges break up the sameness of a painting and make it a whole lot more interesting to look at.

Too much Softness (Blending) Not a Good Thing

If all edges were soft, if everything had the same gradient you would have a soft mush,  like above.  If a painting requires all soft brush work like a foggy bay picture then, of course, it’s called for.

But how many times have you walked past a painting because it didn’t hold your attention maybe because it had that sameness all throughout the painting. It didn’t have the variety in it that would grab your attention and make your brain ask, “What’s going on here?”.

Too many Hard Edges are Not Good either

I am envious of artists that can paint hyper-realistic paintings even though the heading suggests otherwise. The attention to detail and the amount of patients needed to produce this kind of painting is enormous.

Having said that I also can’t look at it for too long a time.  The reason for this is everything in the painting is calling for my attention, my eye is darting from one area of interest to another … and I end up with a headache.

Even though this kind of painting can grab your interest your eye still needs a place to land and rest.  So boredom may not drive you away, but physical pain – at least in my case – might.

Hard and Soft Edges not Limited to just Atmospheric Perspective

Usually you have soft edged objects in the background (receding objects) and hard edged objects in the foreground (advancing or main subject).  Smaller textures in your painting can have soft or hard edges also.

These textures send that almost subliminal message, “Look at me!”. Even if the message you received was, “I’m a dead bug crushed on the canvas” it still made you look.

Looking below you can see the hard and soft edges in these layered textures of the painting. What looks like chaos up close adds to the painting as a whole.

These smaller objects/textures play an important role in a painting it’s like the glue that holds the picture together. The same as when an artist would paint a greenish glaze over a portrait, the glaze gave the portrait a continuity.

It’s that variety of visual noise (like below) that will make you look twice and engage your brain to try and figure it out.

Using Hard and Soft Edges to Guide Your Eye

Since the region of sharpest focus, in humans, is fairly narrow approximately 30 to 40 degrees (center of vision), while the field of view is much larger about 210 degrees (peripheral vision), most detail and contrast is going to happen in that smaller window.

To take advantage of that physical limitation you could use hard and soft edges in the painting to guide the viewers eye.  This is why the background image appears soft and fuzzy it frames the area of interest forcing the viewers eye to the sharper more detailed subject of the painting.

Composition takes Priority over Hard and Soft Edges

Composition will always be king. If you have a strong line that leads your eye out of the painting then no amount to hard and soft edges will lead it back in.  You can think of it this way, composition is the rule and edges are just a suggestion.

Final Thoughts

Putting an assortment of things/textures and edges in your painting will give your art the added interest – even if those things can’t be readily seen – that sets your art apart from everyone else.

Variety in anything will keep your interest while the dull drone of repetition will put you into a coma.