Oct 13, 2016

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.

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

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.

All these various types of edges can be difficult to see unless you…

Know What to Look For

Generally speaking…
  • Abrupt plane changes have firmer edges
    (For example, the bridge of the nose)
  • Gradual plane changes have softer edges
    (Like the curve of a cheek)
  • Textured masses (like hair or a fuzzy sweater)
    have softer edges than skin and bone

Now let's get to the fun part… painting!

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,
    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 lit 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.

Next week, I'll share How to Avoid Chalky Or Muddy Skin-Tones.

Happy painting, everyone!

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