Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D (Part II)

Last week, I left my poor model with very graphic, hard-edged shapes on her face! Today, I'll talk about how to soften the edges between those shapes.

In the previous lesson, I shared how to accurately paint the lit and shadowed regions of the model's face, as well as the mid-tones in-between. These 3 regions of light, dark, and mid-tone can be seen in this first image.

(Note: If you haven't read the previous lesson yet, I recommend you read it first: Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D (Part I).)

The image below shows my next stage… the hair, scarf, and shirt are painted with just 2 values each–1 value for the lit side, 1 value for the shadowed side ("value" describes how light or dark a color is).



Now, Let's Address All
Those Hard-Edged Shapes


Even at the current stage, things are beginning to look 3-D. However, value alone cannot completely describe form. To do this, Value needs his trusty co-worker Edge.

"Edge" describes the quality of the boundary between two adjacent shapes. Together, value and edge create the illusion of form.

TIP: Don't be tempted to grab your softest brush and obliterate all those unseemly hard edges too quickly. Edges have a delicate hierarchy that must be observed carefully. There are razor-sharp edges, there are softer edges, and there is every other type of edge in-between.


Two Trusty Guides To
Traverse Edgy Terrain


  1.  Identify the very sharpest edge in
    your subject and paint it first

    Painting the very sharpest edge first establishes a
    standard against which you can compare all other edges.

    (In my subject, the sharpest edge happens to be
    the edge between the collar and chest.)
     
  2. Before painting each edge, ask yourself,
    "How
    much softer or sharper is this edge
    than one I've already painted?"


Two Ways to Soften an Edge



Of course, there are many ways to soften an edge, but here are the 2 main methods…
  1. Drag one shape into another with a clean, dry brush
    I softened her hair by dragging its shape into the background and the background into the hair.

  2. Paint a transitional value along an edge you wish to soften
    Look at the narrow, grayish-violet shape along the cheek between the it and shadowed regions. The value of this shape falls in-between the lit and shadowed regions, too.

    Even though I chose not to use additional strokes to soften this shape, our eye automatically "blends" the shape into the adjacent shapes, especially when viewed at a distance.

Did you find this lesson valuable? Watch me demonstrate these principles on video in my upcoming online course, "Learn to Paint Dynamic Portraits & Figures in Oil." Click the button below for more info!

Learn More About Online Video Course

Next week, I'll talk about Avoiding Chalky & Muddy Skin-Tones.

Happy painting, everyone!
—Adam

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