I am continuing to re- and re-read Schmid’s chapter on edges, because I’m not sure I have a decently full grasp of what he’s saying.
The book is Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid ($50 USD in soft cover from him; more from Amazon and more in hard cover).
Schmid begins his chapter by saying “Think about edges the way you would think about kissing someone…. Think of edges as exquisite subtleties, as the means to transmit romance, as ways to make your dabs or paint whisper or shout and reach nuances beyond the range of color. Think of them as visual poetry… but especially think of edges as you would the agents of expression in music….pianissimo (very soft), andante (flowing), allegro vivace (fast and lively), maestoso (majestic), fortissimo con sforzando (whamo!).
He’s speaking of edges that create an illusion (emphasis is Schmid’s) of how we ordinarily see, and some of what he says is quite common knowledge — that atmosphere, particularly at a distance, softens and cools elements, and hence edges. And so forth.
But the two aids to seeing edges, he says, are “Squinting and Comparison — [the same] that I [Schmid] described in the … chapter on values. They are essential in working with edges and you must do them together.
So today I was out painting Alla Prima (or plein air, if you are a francophile, or in the rain if you are a realist), and I forgot entirely about edges. But the conditions were just right for comparisons. I thought I’d swing through today’s efforts (remember, I’m a studio fixer-upper of paintings, so these are wet drafts) and think about edges and comparisons — and if that isn’t enough, go on to look at one of Schmid’s examples.
It being October 31, the rains have started, and it was pouring when we left the house. We went down to the river, where Interstate 5 runs along and above it. We sat beneath the interstate to stay out of the rain. Each of these paintings were about an hour’s worth of work: the one above is Hawthorne Bridge, Rainy Day, 12 x 16″, oil on board.
Later that day, in honor of the Trick-or-Treaters, the sun came out.
I moved my easel out into the sun where it was warmer and brighter, and painted for another hour. This isn’t exactly the same scene (duh!) but it’s the same bridge and river and some of the same buildings.
Hawthorne Bridge after Rain, 12 x 16, oil on board
Obviously the rainy one features cool blues; the colors warm up considerably when the sun came out (as did the painter). But the edges changed too. In the earlier painting, the mist in the air blanked out the west hills, behind the city. I smudged them in at the last moment, but they are still without much interest. When the sun came out, the hills were still wet and a bit misty, but the fall colors were oozing through and the hills in the painting become far more alive.
The edges of the hills in the rain painting are faked; the form is just stuck there (I hadn’t had lunch yet). But in the second painting, the edges and the sky intertwine and it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends — which was as it was. Here are a couple of close-cropped details of each:
On th other hand, I think I got the edges of the bridge in the rain more “authentically” than the one in the sun, where again, it was at the end of the session. I needed to make sure the bridge was there, so I slashed a line of paint that doesn’t catch the sun on the edges — I think a change of hue as well as value is required.
This is but a beginning in this venture of edges. I did think about the buildings and how their edges should be painted, but I haven’t sussed out yet quite the degree of sharpness in varying conditions and so I tend to just throw up a line that tells us all that that’s a building edge. But I’m aware of the challenge, so maybe I’ll get to the process in due time.
I will attempt to get at these edges before the paint dries — Schmid warns about the difficulties of mooshing edges after the oil is dry to the touch — but looking at the raw version is illuminating.
Here’s a Richard Schmid — not the one from the book, but something similar:
Schmid’s oils often resemble watercolors — not my style. But his ability to analyze the whys and wherefores of certain processes, and his sense of humor, are well worth feeling a bit inadequate in the face of his work.
And how are your edges doing these days? By the way, I started this post thinking about squinting and comparisons, but the comparisons I made here aren’t what Schmid is speaking of — he means comparing the values and edges at the real site, squinting to make out what the strongest ones are and where they disappear. He also warns against squinting at the canvas. He even has a whole page on the practice of squinting. “Lastly” he says, “it only works marginally when working with photographs. SQuinting at a photo is about the same as squinting at a painting. Everything gets fuzzy. Squinting for values in a photo is sometimes useful, but because of the limited data caught by the camera, the information you can obtain is minimal compared to squinting at the real thing.”
I wanted to show him Steve’s photos!