Monday, 9 January 2012



No, I don’t mean how to find that sketchbook or brush you have lost and been looking for, although I have to say, there is some kind of science-fiction “black hole” in my studio;  I can have something in my hand one minute, and I answer the phone, go back to wherever I left my pen, brush or pencil, and it has completely disappeared. Never to be seen again.   So infuriating, happens all the time.

Anyway……I’d like to give a little thought to enhancing our awareness of “lost and found”  edges.  When we were kids, we drew everything with equally firm edges – boundaries –felt safe and comfy to have something to "colour in",  but the more experienced we become as artists, the more we need to let go of the need to enclose everything with a careful edge.  (unless we are cartoonists of course....)

Squinting helps a lot;  when we squint, we become aware that while many objects in a scene may well have a nicely sharp, delineated edge, (a “found” edge),  in other areas the shape we see actually DISSOLVES into the background, not necessarily because there is a shadow there, but often because it is similar in tone or colour to the background.  When this happens, softening, or “losing” the edge will help to link the shape with its background, and will encourage more of a visual “flow” within the image.

I know that many of my students had a fear of softening, or losing, edges –they would carefully draw an object in a scene, making sure it was "right" before moving on to the next object.  They were not aware of the visual links with the surrounding objects, because they weren't looking at them!  However,  actually, your drawing or painting WILL make sense without all the edges carefully shown, because the viewer will understand the shape of the “found” part of the object, and his or her brain will do the rest and will assume the rest of the image. It is really important not to underestimate the intelligence of your viewer!   Take a look at the beautiful drawing by Rico Lebrun (1900-1964), (above) done in pencil ink and chalk:
The shaded head is obviously the focal point of the drawing.  However, we completely understand the "lost" parts of the figure, lines deliberately left out in the arms and legs, in order to draw even more emphasis to that expressive head. the white of the paper "links" with the figure because of the lack of hard lines. Do we assume that the poor person had no left hand, and no feet?  Of course not.

 In fact, when we come to creating a full colour painting,  this losing of edges and visual linking of shapes is a very powerful tool, an important part of pictorial composition, and needs to considered continuously.
I am slightly uncomfortable, after showing that divine drawing above, to show one of my marketplace sketches, but I will have to live with it!  In this scene, which is a pencil and watercolour sketch, you can see that I used the watercolour washes to "lose" some edges, allowing them to blend together, while keeping others sharp and crisp.  Probably too many crisp edges here and some too-dark tones.......but hey, it was a very hot day, I was in the middle of a busy Spanish market painting on the spot, so please give me a bit of a break!  And also, please don't ask me why he has what looks like a portable radio hanging in front of his face....I am blowed if I know what it is now.......

Finally, here is one of my still life pastel images, notice in this one how the left side of the teapot,and red box,  and the right side of the large red bowl, dissolve into the darkness behind.  I wanted to make the red and black objects and background flow together visually. I could actually see the back of the bowl and the back of the teapot irl, so I squinted REALLY hard...   Anyway, imagine if I had painted each object with all edges showing clearly;   It would not have had the same atmosphere at all.

When doing your sketches, or composing your paintings, do try to use the principles of "lost and found" to make more visual links and reduce the isolation of objects within a scene.  This will create more visual impact.


  1. The still life was a good example thanks

  2. Another very informative post thanks Jackie. You are a natural teacher and I'm enjoying these little art tutorials as well as your lovely art work.

  3. thank you both for your comments, most appreciated.

  4. Thank you for all the helpful information. I am really into line drawing and I definitely needed a reminder about lost and found edges because they apply to the use of line as well! Thanks.

  5. Beautiful work and a great reminder. I always remember this while painting, but often forget it when I draw in ink. Another new year's resolution. -sigh-

  6. Thank you so much for this lesson. I love hard edges - everything is clear and decided, feels so secure)))

  7. Glad you all enjoyed this post! Yes, it is hard to think of "losing" lines when working with pen, Dan...but if you add tone, then it becomes less difficult. As for loving hard edges, is important to remember that hard edges draw attention, and sometimes too many hard edges in a picture make it difficult for the viewer to know exactly where you want them to look. You may have to find other ways to draw attention to your focal point or area.

  8. I found this post while searching for an explanation of lost and found edges. Very informative, thanks, Jackie!


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