Tuesday, 18 October 2011


A reader asked me to touch on the aspect of EDGES, with sketching in mind rather than painting –which is a whole different subject I will tackle at a later date . 

We all use lines to define shapes…we put OUTlines around everything, and as children, would then “colour in” those outlines.


Very often, these edges simply do not exist in the real world.  People, for instance, are not flat, like stage scenery. Neither is a ball, a pear, a flower.  What DOES have edges then?  A box has an edge – well, several of course.  So does a rectangular or square building.  All sounds rather obvious, I know – but we still feel the urge to put lines around everything, even if there is no actual edge.

However,  making a hard line where the eye stops at a so-called edge, might well visually flatten the form and destroy the illusion of three-dimensional form.  Since we are trying to create this illusion, on a flat, two-dimensional surface…paper…we need to find ways to tackle the “edge” so that we are hinting at a continuance of the shape, beyond that contour edge.  Visual examples are always best, so take a look at the vase sketches below.  You can clearly see how unnecessary the hard edge lines for the sides of the vase are in the bottom image, if anything, they seem to bring the sides of the vase forward!  Very simple examples, but very effective to show how much we need to develop sensitivity to edges in our sketches, particularly if we intend to develop the 3-D form with the use of tonal shading.

Without the use of shading, a greater sensitivity to the weight of the lines we use, will also help enormously to reinforce the illusion of three dimensions.  We need to become more responsive to our subject, and in so doing, our drawings will become more expressive, and far less mechanical.  

Take a look at this Rembrandt drawing.  His lines appear to flow spontaneously, but every one is telling.  We can sense the form and changes of plane,  and we even understand the direction of the light.  We can feel the weight of her head, and the weight of her sleeping body pressing into the bedding. It is a beautifully expressive brush drawing, not even remotely mechanical, and it “breathes” on the paper because the figure is not enclosed in “wire” with a hard edge all around it.  This was a quickly-executed drawing..which shows that it is not the time spent that makes a worthwhile drawing, it is understanding and sensitivity.

Time spent studying master drawings, and thinking more carefully about your own drawings and the edges you use, will help you enormously when you come to tackle the subject of “lost and found” edges in painting…..watch this space, folks….


  1. This is something I could never understand Jackie. I suppose I am still at the outline stage :-)

  2. I do hope you understand it a little more now?
    It is important to me that I make things CLEAR for people! let me know if there is anything about this which is still unclear to you.

  3. Very nice post - I needed the reminder. Love that Rembrandt drawing - takes my breath away.

  4. Beautiful drawings, Sound advice. Thank you!!

  5. Excellent, informative post! This is something I should definitely think about more often!

  6. Thanks for your insight. I need all these tips!

  7. we all need reminders from time to time, me included. Glad you all found this post helpful, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  8. I just discovered your blog and I am delighted, very interesting. I put link in my list of bloggers and shall come back to read .

  9. Great article on edges in drawing and sketching. I've been improving my sketches over the past several years and discovered it's often easier to get an expressive line when I'm drawing fast than if I slow down and try to be careful.

    It's that slow careful technique that's more likely to result in wire outlines. But it takes tons of practice to get used to sketching fast without worrying about getting proportions right.

    One thing that helps is to use a soft pencil, charcoal pencil or brush pen rather than a hard pencil or a pen with a consistent line width like a technical pen. Ballpoints are somewhere in between, pressure and speed can lighten the line or make it skip.

  10. Hi,

    Lost edges are not only useful to enhance perspective, but also to call attention to the focus of the painting and to make it more interesting. They also lend that painterly aspect that people like so much and often don't perceive that it's there.



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