UART Tip #08: The Secret World of Edges with Jen Evenhus

My world is amazing. I’ve lived it for more than 64 years and I learn something new every day. My art world is no different. It’s mysterious, intriguing, challenging and an endless source of joy.

One of the ways I continue to learn is to write and teach. When we teach, we are forced to put into words what we know intuitively. My intuition is knowledge I have gained over many years of painting, experimenting, reading, visiting museums, attending workshops and visiting with other artists.

When I paint, I think about these important elements:  1)composition  2)values  3)color  4) focus.
In the past, I didn’t ‘think’ about edges; it was just one of the things I did intuitively. I use hard edges to attract the eye and lost edges to allow the eye to travel from one area to another. Sometimes I accidently utilized found edges. In my workshops, I talk briefly about edges and how important they are. I touch on the basics – hard and soft, lost and found, but haven’t, until now, made it one of my ‘most important elements’ to use when creating a painting. After doing a little research, I realize the subject of edges is more extensive, and essential, than I imagined.

Using a variety of edges in your painting helps to direct the eye to the center of attention where you will often find hard or distinct edges and high contrast, leaving soft edges and lower contrast areas on the periphery of your image, which is, of course, how your eye sees an object or scene. Manipulating edges helps tell your story. Here is a good example of manipulating edges to produce a specific result:

My painting, “Eager Daybreak,” painted on UArt 400, is a painting of Aspens on the mountain above our home. The image on the left was initially my finished painting. After a couple days, I became dissatisfied with it because it didn’t have the feeling I was after. The stand of trees were all the same left to right –– nothing lost, nothing found. I wanted atmosphere! So, I created a variety of edges by scrubbing off the field of snow, pulling some of the sky down and pulling some of the trees up into the mid distance and added a highlight to one section of the hills. I also added some green to the left-hand tree stand.

I scrubbed and repainted the foreground, using diffused edges so the eye would visit only briefly before moving into the spaces between the trees and up to the sunlit top of the trees and bounce up to the highlight on the hill and then back down to the top of the trees – accomplished all using hard edges and contrast vs. diffused (lost) edges and close-value edges between the trees and foreground on the left.

Another important edge modification was on the distant hills . . . the strip of color was too bold, competing for attention with the main focus – the light on the tops of the trees. When I changed the edges on the hills on both ends, it moved the focus back down to the trees where it should be.

Using a variety of edges helps describe the objects and areas in our painting in our own unique style. These changes turned this stagnant landscape into a story filled with atmosphere and memories.


This painting, “Morning Melodies,” is a good example of many different types of edges.

  • Hard Edges – there are quite a few hard edges here – see the leaves on the left
  • Diffused Edges – many examples here – especially in flower petals
  • Soft Edges – check out the flowers and leaves
  • Broken / Ragged Edges – evident in the leaves at top left portion
  • Inquiring Edges – new to me – are evident throughout.

Within our painting, every shape is defined by an edge. We artists have a diverse collection of edges at our disposal, eagerly waiting to help us convey our message or story.

Next time you step up to your easel, be sure to put edges right up there as one of the most important elements to think about while painting.

Jen Evenhus

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