A Study In Edges

Daniel Gerhartz is a prize-winning artist and workshop instructor, and his book, Not Far From Home, is a high-level guide that both inspires and instructs. The book's pages are filled with beautiful reproductions of Gerhartz's paintings as well as experienced instruction from the artist that is based on his years of painting. Gerhartz's has a blog dedicated to methods and techniques that provide a foundation for his work, and his book. A few months ago he brought us some great info on squinting, and today he's coming to us with a lesson on edges. Enjoy!

Mr. Johnson by Daniel Gerhartz

Often as I survey a model's appearance, I look for the one key visual aspect that initially catches my eye and make it the focus of my study. This can be an elusive, fleeting quality of light that lasts only moments or a lyrical rhythm of line. In essence, all these characteristics are variations of line, harmony, tone, color, or edge. In Mr. Johnson, my focus was a study in edges as I strove to convey the power of the form and drama of the subject.

The key to painting edges accurately is to truthfully observe how the look in proper relation to each other and then paint that relationship. Before I set my brush to the canvas, I find it very important to take an assessment of the subject in terms of the extremes in value, color, and edges, and organize my thinking around these from the outset. In this case, as edges were my focus, I squinted down at Mr. Johnson, and made a mental note of the hardest visible edges. These are circled in red.

Why do I squint? If I don’t, everything appears to have a sameness of edge.  By gently closing my eyes about half way, the forms are simplified and the variety between hard and soft becomes more visibly evident.

You will notice in the circled areas that the edge quality is razor sharp in some spots. This is how they looked when I was squinting down!  It is so important to paint these areas just as they appear: razor sharp! See the difference between the sharp edge circled between his eyes and the edges of his brow line as the eye sockets rounded up into the forehead or the hard edge of the hat visor compared to the softer edges on the cast shadow on the forehead from the hat.

Another area of great edge contrast is on the area of the neck beneath the chin. Notice the extremely sharp edge between the neck and shirt compared to the softer edges of the cast shadow of the chin on the neck.  Also, an area that I often see painted too hard by students is the edge quality of the transition between the top plane and the bottom plane of the nose. Observe the very soft quality of this turning form.

Mr. Johnson, detail.

Early in my development, I admired many of the "broad brush" painters whose works I studied. I was seduced by the bold sweeping strokes they made as they rendered a head or figure. But those “beauty strokes,” as my friend Scott Christensen so aptly calls them, should not destroy the form or take away from the sensitivity with which you paint the subject. What I failed to notice was the painstaking attention to the accurate rendering of the form that was always beneath the bold surface quality of these artists.

So the next time you have a subject before you, carefully assess the subject, squint down and let the sharpest edges emerge. When beginning a work, establish the sharpest edges as early as you can in the painting so that you can use them to compare against. This is critical! As you progress, hold onto the sharpest edges as reference points and notice the how all of the other edge transitions relate to them in descending order. It is this great contrast that will give your work new dimension!


For more instruction from Dan, check out his website. Enjoy!

**Reader reviews for Not Far From Home**

“The quality and overarching sheer beauty of the book is inspirational.”
–Dr. Bruce T. Faure, collector

“Absolutely stunning…needs to be on your bookshelf if you are an artist or art lover.”
–Tony Pro, painter

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.