How to Soften Your Edges Using Color and Value

Hard and soft edges are important elements in your paintings. The most popular way to soften edges is by applying different brush techniques of dragging, zigzagging and overlapping as demonstrated in this video. The other way, which is not employed as often by painters, is by using color and value.

First a quick definition: Hard edges provide a strong sense of where an object begins and ends, whereas soft edges disappear or fade into the background. They are also known as lost and found edges. Hard edges command attention from the viewer because of the sharp contrast, while soft edges bleed together.

Why is it important to utilize the technique of hard and soft edges? It is because they:

  • Create variety and energy in a painting;
  • Set the tone of your visual message;
  • Direct the viewer to the areas of rest as well as the area(s) of focus;
  • Demonstrate your mastery of painting.

Using color and value to achieve edge variety is a technique I like to use, particularly in my abstract paintings and those infused with realism. In these paintings, I often have many hard edges but I do not want them to draw immediate attention. I want to maintain the integrity of the edge, while the shapes disappear into the background.

In the painting below, you can see where variety is achieved around the edge of the rectangle. The edge between the background and the textured box is there, yet there is a variation of color and value where the two meet. (Earlier stages of the painting can be seen below.)

color and value

“Veiled,” 18×24 oil on panel


Below is an exercise that I teach in my live color classes. In this example I am using watercolor, but it can be executed in any medium. Students are first asked to choose a yellow, red and blue because they represent light, middle and dark values respectively. They paint 4 swatches of each of these colors as you can see here. [Read more…]

Ever Painted with Just a Palette Knife?

If you are painter who uses only a palette knife, then my question is a mute one for you. However, for the majority of us, the palette knife is used as an accessory to our brushes. Myself, I split my brush and knife time about 50-50. My favorite use of the palette knife is mixing my colors because it keeps my colors clean.

In the spirit of experimentation and “Painting Outside of the Box,” as discussed in an earlier blog post, I decided to paint an entire painting with just a palette knife – no cheating allowed – using thick globs of paint. In addition, I chose a subject that I haven’t painted in years – a bouquet of flowers. Because I do like to push my comfort zone, I chose to have two challenges for this exercise.

Inspired by a friend’s bouquet of flowers from her garden….

palette knife…I began slapping painting around. Since I had never painted flowers with a palette knife, it felt awkward and I also wasn’t real confident of my strategy. For example, do I start with the background or the flowers or go back and forth? Indecision led me to do the latter as you can see below.

palette knife

By the way, the two words that kept running through my head while painting were “joy” and “abundance.” I wanted that feeling to show up in this floral painting.

palette knife

I was pleasantly surprised with the results that you see above. Despite the temptation, on several occasions, I did not use a brush. However, because the surface of this 20×20 panel was highly textured with gesso, I did need to use my pinky to smudge in color where the paint just wouldn’t fill in the crevices and left white specks.

After a couple of days of studying the painting, I realized that the middle left section of the bouquet proved that I am right handed! Notice how all of the leaves are going in one direction from right to left. LOL! I had to laugh. And, the leaves were too close in size and shape. Sigh….

Also, I needed to beef up my darks in the area where the flowers bunch together, to help keep the bouquet feel cohesive. The dark purple flower on the left was too dark, so I decreased the value of it and increased the values in the background around it.

It was a delight to discover that I can still paint flowers, as well as with a palette knife. One of my favorite parts of painting them, was combining several related colors within a flower. With the palette knife I could pick up 2-3 colors in one swoop. Here is an up close view.

palette knife

Notice the variety of reds in the rose and yellows in the lily.

The finished 20×20 on panel oil painting is below. It’s title is “Abundance of Joy.”

palette knifeHow did I do for the first time out of the gate? Are you ready to try a new painting technique? I highly recommend it.

One final note: I doubt that I will become a floral painter. However, I do believe this exploration will benefit my current need to push my development as a painter. I am not sure what my next challenge will be. Perhaps a portrait, since I have never painted one before. What do you think/recommend?

If you would like to learn more about my approach to mixing color, visit my online color course available via

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Painted Outside of Your Box Lately?

We artists have often heard art instructors/gurus tell us to “Paint outside of the box.” This suggestion is usually couched in the encouragement for us to stretch our current approach to painting or to further our growth as an artist.

Sounds good. Except there is a question that always pops up in my brain when I hear this. “Could you demonstrate what you mean by painting outside of the box? Or, could you give an example of what YOU did to paint outside of YOUR box?” Since I have not seen or heard an example, I thought I would share mine.

In my recent post entitled Moving My Art Studio Temporarily | Don’t Forget Chocolate!, I mentioned that I did not have a painting agenda for my month long stay at our remote mountain cabin. I had some ideas tickling my innards, but nothing was really grabbing me. Despite this rather indifferent feeling toward painting – which is unusual for me – I went ahead and started working on a 40×30 water lily painting, as seen below.

paint outside box

After a couple of days of looking at this painting at this early stage, I had to own up to the fact that my heart was not in it. A voice inside of me said, “I don’t want to paint this way right now.” I went to bed imagining myself scooping up large globs of paint (I don’t typically apply paint thickly) on my palette knife and covering up this image.

Then another little bird in my brain asked to me, “Carol, why not paint outside of your box?” So I dove in.

I squirted out larger than usual piles of paint onto my palette, mixed up a few more colors and went for it. First, with a  large brush I painted around the water image as you see below. By the way, that is blue tape protecting the water area of the painting. For a brief moment, I considered stopping here and seeing what I might do with it, but, no, I wanted to push the envelope.

Stopping would have been safe and not really out of my comfort zone. I was up for some surprises OR something that didn’t work.

painted outside of your box

After mixing piles of complementary colors, I then removed the tape and picked up my larger palette knife . Using bright intense colors was another “outside of the box” moment. I applied the yellows, orange and greens over my previously painted ares in vertical strokes.

painted outside of your box

What have I learned so far about painting outside of my box?

[Read more…]

Lessons Learned from Our 4-Legged Friends

As a kid, my experience with animals was a mixed bag because one cat died in surgery, a dog was killed by a car, and several other mishaps with rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, turtles, and seahorses occurred. Consequently, I never fully understood or appreciated the role that pets can play in our lives. Then I met Bob, husband of the artist, and discovered he is part-cat. For his birthday, early in our now 32+ year marriage, I bought him a Tonkinese kitten with compelling turquoise eyes we named Polaris.

Polaris carried us through the illness and early death of Bob’s beloved mother (who is responsible for re-igniting my art after letting it lie for over 15 years), and our move from Minnesota to Colorado, plus traversing many other of life’s hills and valleys. Bottom line, Polaris converted me into a cat lover. He gave us 19 years of entertainment and comfort. In addition, he was one handsome intelligent sock catching dude who loved being a single cat — no siblings necessary, thank you very much.

When we arrived in CO in 2004, home of the largest ratio of humans to dogs in the country (bet you didn’t know that), I became friends of many people who are avid dog lovers. I have to confess that I had a slight fear of dogs and really didn’t get the “human’s best friend” mantra. I started hearing the statement, “they teach us many things,” though no one ever elaborated on these lessons. “Really?” I said to my skeptical self.

Then in 2010, along came my wonder rescue dog – my shadow – Kyla. Okay, I said to myself, so what are these so-called lessons? Were they in a document somewhere that I missed along the way? lessons learned

It didn’t take long before I was calling Kyla my “anti-depressant.” How could I not grin when she came running to me with her ear-to-ear smile or hear that early morning “thump, thump, thump” of her voluminous fox-like tail every day? Then the unconditional love began hitting me between the eyes and deep into my heart.

Okay, I get it! though I sensed there was more. Our orange cats, Paynter and Redd, had arrived earlier in 2006.  I saw two unrelated cats become soul mates and inseparable brothers. We have copious photos of  them intertwined, hugging, licking and reaching out to reach other. It was shear pleasure watching them love each other.

Our loss of our dear sweet Redd this past week is the inspiration for this blog post. He was with us for only 9 years and an important family member. Our hearts ache as we process the hole he left in our lives. His loss gave me pause to revisit the subject of “lessons learned.” In addition to those mentioned above, what have I learned, or at least observed, from our critters?

lessons learned

The other lessons I have learned from Polaris, Paynter, Redd and Kyla:

  • They know how to live in the moment (I happen to believe they are better teachers than all of the gurus out there preaching it);
  • They role-model how to meditate (I haven’t learned this skill quite yet and appreciate their constant reminders);
  • Love is in abundance and has no boundaries;
  • Patience isn’t a virtue (cat lesson);
  • Patience is a virtue (dog lesson);
  • You, the human, are loved even if you do give me dumb food or forget to clean the littler box or I don’t get my daily walk;
  • Smiling and laughing are contagious;
  • Critter and humans do communicate with each other;
  • Fury friends make yummy warm blankets;
  • Owners are not always smarter than their pets;
  • Loyalty;
  • Play and rest are life essentials;
  • …and that they worth the occasional vet bill, spit-up, broken dish, and worry when they escape the fence.
        I am sure there are more lessons. Please share the lessons you have learned
from your beloved 4-leggeds.
Over the years, I have attempted to capture the spirit of each of our beloved critters with color and paint.  I am so glad we have these, as is Bob, because the paintings spark delightful memories and reminders of lessons we haves learned.

You may be wondering why I am writing about our pets and not my latest art work…?

Life is art; it often informs my artmaking.

Observing and feeling my world is what inspires my creativity. Often life’s events spark a series of paintings. For example, after double jaw surgery five years ago, I created an eight painting series, entitled, “Celebrating Air!” Because the surgery opened my tiny airway, I no longer suffered from sleep apnea. I could not have predicted the subject matter for this series – air bubbles – nor that I would even paint about the surgery until I had started my recovery process. It was a lovely surprise.

As artists, one of our roles can be to bring attention to subject matter and emotional content the average person takes for granted or just doesn’t consider. Through our observation skills and heart, we can visually communicate these findings and help change the world.

This topic reminds me of the well-known quote of Georgia O’Keeffe, Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. Then add this related quote of hers, I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers. Her observations communicated with paint, altered and still alters people’s view of the world.

How has life informed or inspired your work? What events or observations have you made that have sparked your creativity?

Post Script. The is my husband’s eulogy for Redd:

This has been a rough week for both artist and husband of artist.  We had to bid goodbye to our loyal friend Redd, studio cat shown above.  Tears have flowed.  He was a conveyor of sweetness and love, and steadfast companion to us all.  Redd had a becalming way about him that always said, “Never fear, the love guy is here.”
Redd’s brain was a little scrambled, we think, due a severe fever as a kitten and probably the cause of his premature death. One of my nicknames for him was Forrest (as in Gump), and he was the epitome of that character’s simplicity, mixed with gentleness and caring.  He survived, mostly due to his adopted big brother’s maternal attention.
Redd never knew a lap he didn’t like, including complete strangers.  It is with great sadness, but celebration of his life, that we honor the life giving tonic that these creatures give us. The incredible joy and energy they bring to our lives makes it all worthwhile.

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