Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sierra Rocks, 9 x 12 oil on linen

This is my first demo of the year, which I did for my landscape concepts class last week. I used a photo that I took last summer during my trip to the Eastern Sierras with a bunch of unruly hooligans artists.

Among other things, I wanted to emphasize using edges effectively. The basic idea is this; we have at our disposal a couple of options when it comes to edges –sharp,  soft, and lost – and we need to use them deliberately, intentionally, and strategically. There are reasons why we use one type of edge over another, and it should never be done arbitrarily or thoughtlessly.

So when do we use sharp edges? In general;
  • The thing you're painting has a hard surface - rocks, glass, metal are much harder than grass, foliage and fabric.
  • Focal point. Sharp edges draw the eye.
  • Cast shadow edges are generally sharper than form shadow edges. (There are a lot of exceptions to this)

And soft edges;

  • The thing you're painting is soft. 
  • Away from the center of interest, so you want to play down its presence.
  • Form shadow edges are generally softer than cast shadow edges.

Lost edges;

  • Simplifying a cluttered area by connecting shapes
  • You want to deemphasize an area even more than the soft edged areas. 
  • Separation of adjacent "things" isn't part of the story so it's unnecessary. (If you lose an edge and it still makes visual sense, you probably didn't need that edge to begin with)
I'm sure there are other reasons to use hard/soft/lost edges, but these are the biggies.

and of course, there are exceptions to all rules and it boils down to whether a particular decision makes good compositional and conceptual sense, in the context of your picture. 

In the context of my picture above, I might point out a few things to illustrate what I mean;

  • The rocks in the front and the rocks in the back are both hard surfaces, but the front rocks have a much sharper edge because they're the focal areas. The rocks in the back are "supporting cast".
  • Trees near the middle have sharper edges (though not enough take away from the rocks) than the trees away from the center of interest. Trees in the back have hardly any defined shapes or edges.
  • The edge between water and the rocks are lost. The separation of the two were unnecessary because the picture makes sense without that separation. It also simplifies that area into one shape, not two.
  • The reflection of the rock is softer than the rock itself.
  • Edges of the rocks where the form is turning away from us, is softer than the edges in the front. The sharp edge helps to bring it forward. 
  • Trees all connect at some point or another - lost edges to combine multiple shapes into one. Simplify.
  • The water's edge against the lit part of the land mass is pretty sharp because there's quite a bit of value contrast there. As opposed to the shadowy areas.  If I made all the edges along the water soft, it would look fuzzy and lose that glassy quality (even with the reflections present). 
  • The front edge on the rocks where it turns from light to shadow is actually a form shadow edge, but it's supa sharp because the turning radius is so sharp. That's one of the exceptions to the rule.
  • Sharp edges contribute to the general crispness of the picture, which, in turn gives it a more colorful feel than it actually is. Subtle color differences lose their identities when the strokes are mushy.
  • The contrast between sharp and soft edges enhance each other's characteristic. Sharp edges are more meaningfully sharp when surrounded by (or played next to) soft edges, and vice versa. Arbitrary placements of sharp edges don't have the same sense of purpose and intent. (Well, duh!) 

It may be helpful to think of sharp edges as exclamation points. When you're verbally expressing yourself, if you were to shout every word,  no word is more important than the rest. Similarly, if you speak softly from start to finish, nothing in particular is emphasized. In order to communicate effectively, you'll want to know when to speak softly and when to punctuate with a !


  1. Good post, Terry.

    I like to think of it as "when everything is shouting, nothing is heard."

  2. Thanks Bill~ yeah, like punk rock. LOL

  3. Brilliant explanation. Thanks for taking the time to write it and share it.

  4. Thanks Norman, Kimberly, and Sara!