‘Edges’ in watercolour refers to a particular quality of marks made using watercolour. A brushstroke of pigment applied to dry paper may have a very definite, ragged or crisp edge. The mark made by applying that same brushstroke to damp, or wet paper, will create an entirely different result, being soft, hazy, or fuzzy.
When people think about and plan a watercolour painting, the colours, composition, and tonal range may be the obvious place to start. Edges might not be given much, if any consideration. However, planning edge variety in a watercolour can result in the elements of the piece that really give the work atmosphere, and that aspect of watercolour that can be so magical.
A loaded brush let loose into wet paper moves and travels in the water, creating beautiful, and at times surprising effects. All pigments behave in their own unique way, and if the brush is loaded with a mixture of pigments, they travel at different rates to each other, so that the final result shimmers with an effect that would never occur with controlled application of paint onto dry paper.
A soft, hazy mark made onto damp paper will recede and help to create distance in the work. Hard edges, particularly ragged dry brush strokes are dominant and eye catching, and appear nearer.
This work, Misty Morning, was painted on a freezing cold, damp day. The paper took hours to dry, and as a result the painting was completed almost entirely wet-in-wet. The soft, hazy edges contribute to the atmosphere at least as much as the choice of colours.
In places, extra water was drizzled from the brush into areas of wet pigment, to allow the clean water to make a path through the water, giving additional areas of soft, wet edges.
As a contrast, this piece, ‘Aro St, Wellington’, was painted almost entirely on dry paper.
This was a mid winters Wellington day, and although cool, it was bright and sunny. The hard, crisp edges throughout the painting give the impression of a very clear day, the sort of sunny, cold day without any heat haze or warm day pollution.
The following 2 paintings are a deliberate mix of hard and soft edges.
The distant hills in Waikato Hills were painted with juicy pigment onto wet paper, so that the tops of them spread up into the sky, giving the piece a misty, damp feel in the distance, in contrast to the crisp edges of the cows and shed.
In ‘3 Colour Landscape with Quinacridone Gold (painted using only quinacridone gold, permanent alizarin crimson, and indanthrone blue) the sky was painted by drizzling rich, luscious pigment onto a wet surface, and tipping the painting to direct the pigment. The tops of the distant trees were painted into the wet area to blend up into the sky, in contrast to the definite marks around the shed.
Watercolour is all about water. How much water you mix with the pigment, how much water your brush is holding, and how much water is on the paper all has to be considered. A common mistake is to continue to add the same dilution of pigment into a wet area to increase the load of colour. All this achieves is to add the same amount of water, into a wet area, creating a swimming pool rather than increasing the colour, when what is needed is the addition of almost neat, undiluted pigment.
People often come to my workshops because they want their work to ‘loosen up’.
Playing with edges is a great thing to focus on. Sometimes, making an effort to adjust your own attitude is very helpful, so that you are in the frame of mind to allow the pigments to travel in the water, without getting nervous and jumping in with a tissue to mop up and control what goes on.
Generally, the wet-in-wet aspect of a painting is done early on. This is quite liberating, as there is very little, if any, painting work already completed, so no need to worry about ruining the painting! It can really set the scene for the remainder of the work, and I think is often so beautiful that it’s a good reminder not to get carried away with details, and overwork the rest of the piece.
Often, less is more. An initial wash of luscious colour into a wet surface is a beautiful thing! Be generous with freshly squeezed colour, and let the watercolour work its magic.
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