Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lost Edges

Girl in Braids, 16 x 12 inches, oil on panel

"How do you know where to lose edges?", a student asked me the other day. Like everything else in painting, there are no formulas. You have to make your decisions based on what you're trying to do in a particular painting.

Losing an edge connects two adjacent shapes which may or may not help the overall design. Often connecting shapes simplifies the design and strengthens its impact. But if by connecting shapes, critical information is lost, you may want to rethink your decision.

So it comes down to "what is critical information"?  It's stuff that's necessary for the painting to make sense. When you're painting realistically, it's fairly simple to define whether a piece of visual information makes sense or not. Take out that edge and if it looks weird, you need to put it back in.

Often when two dark shapes meet, like in shadow areas, the edge between them can be lost without compromising the integrity of the visual reality. It simplifies the shadow shapes and clarifies the design. Especially if the areas of interest are all in the lit side, the shadow side can be simplified quite a bit. 

Squinting will compress the values so that much of the close-valued shapes become connected. Most of the time, you can use this as a guide to make lost-edge decisions. Most of the time, you can totally tell what's going on even if squinting reduces the overall image to just two values. What does that tell us? That a lot of detail does not make a more believable visual reality. Just why do you need that edge anyway, if you squint and it disappears, and the figure (or the landscape. Or the still life) still looks convincing? If you have a good reason, keep that edge. if you can't come up with a good reason, may be you should lose that edge?

Unfamiliar, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel

It's no secret... I mean it's obvious when you look at my paintings, that the colors I use are not observed, but invented. They're subjective. Made up. I do pay attention to color relationships and value relationships, but I don't really care about the actual colors that I see in front of me. If they don't work for my painting, I don't want them. 

I tweak my values as well. I can't ignore values, for they make up the structure of the painting and create believable form, but I'm free to make an area darker or lighter as long as I don't betray the structure. 

In all three of these paintings, the background and shadow values were actually different. Sometimes subtly different, and sometimes drastically different. And in all three of these paintings, I brought the values of the shadows (on the figure) and the backgrounds closer, so that I can connect them and lose edges.  I didn't do them everywhere, but I went a lot further than I would have if I were taking a more conservative representational approach.

Fleeting Thoughts, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel

In some areas you can see that I connected the lit side of the figure with the background, losing edges in the lighter end of the value spectrum. So losing edges isn't limited to shadow side, obviously. But connecting dark shapes is the easiest way to lose edges without losing key information. Start there, see where it takes you. Then you can tweak shadow values a little bit so that you can lose edges between two shapes that in actuality have different values. Once you get the hang of it, try it in the lighter values.

The more you lose edges, the more you will become aware of how powerful this tool is in designing a picture. If practicing losing edges starts to make you think about what's actually important in your painting and what are the things you only thought were important, you are well on your way to becoming a better compositionist. (I know there's no such word. I still like it better than composer).

If you try some of these suggestions on your next paintings, let me know how they went! You can share your experience with other readers in the comment box. I'd love to hear from you~


  1. Thank you for this post today.

    Edges are something I struggle with. I don't know why.

    Your figures use edges fantastically. I was looking also at some of the diver paintings from David Shevlino and love the way those edges are lost as well.

    I love what lost edges do to enhance a painting. But have been sooo pensive about using it in my own paintings. I always seem to paint just hard edges and just leave it alone.

    I'll have to just be brave and "go deep" and do some practicing here.

    Thakns for the great post

  2. Good clear guidance, as always; man, I keep forgetting to squint!

  3. Thanks for such a great explanation of lost edges Terry, this is a really useful post. I love your work, so lovely and calm...:)

  4. Thanks Robert! I like David's paintings too. He has a way with his edges. Connecting shadow to shadow. That's the first step!

  5. Thanks Judy! For the longest time, I had a sign taped to my easel "SQUINT!"

  6. Thank you Leesa! Glad you liked the post!

  7. edges are great for controlling eye-flow. Every hard edge says, "look at me!"