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Friday, March 23, 2012

Visual Bridges

Whether enabling us to cross over a deep ravine, a small stream or twelve lanes of traffic, we depend upon bridges to get from one place to another.  They take on many forms-- from a plank of lumber to vast expanses of concrete, from woven ropes to lengths of steel cable.  Nothing stops us in our tracks more abruptly than a bridge taken out.  Yet we cross them daily without conscious awareness that they are even there.

What do bridges have to do with composing paintings?  They are absolutely necessary for the eye to stay engaged in a painting.  A visual bridge, or transition as it's called in artspeak, is any method for enabling the eye to move smoothly from one area to another.  Gradation is a visual bridge:  it transitions gradually from one opposite element to another; soft edges are visual bridges; they enable a shape to join into, rather than be isolated from, its surroundings; lost edges are visual bridges:  they merge shapes into a potentially intriguing visual journey.

Of these three, let's take a closer look at lost edges.

Lost edges occur when, rather than totally delineating a shape, the artist allows a shape's edge to disappear  into the adjacent space.  Below is a simplified example of a lost edge.

 Because our minds tend to fill in the blanks when information is absent, it is not necessary for a shape to be completely delineated in order for us to read it.  Our tendency towards closure causes us to become more engaged while filling in the gaps when information is missing, thus we are participating in the work.  So by creating lost edges, engaging the viewer's involvement in completing the image, the artist is making the painting more interesting to look at.

One of the best examples I've seen of  lost edges used in abundance is Pat Weaver's watercolor painting, "Racetrack."  Throughout the piece, we see light from one shape merging into light within another.

Pat Weaver     "Racetrack"     Watercolor

Here I've drawn red arrows through a few of Weaver's lost edges.  Examine these, then glance back at the painting above and notice how each of these serves as a visual bridge.

Whereas most of Weaver's lose edges are light into light, Qiang Huang effectively uses dark into dark in his still life oil painting below.  Notice how the shadows on the apples merge into their cast shadows and how these merge into the background.  Then look at how he unifies the bunch of grapes with bridges, defining only enough shapes for the viewer to read it as grapes, then look at how their darks are bridged by the darks on the jar behind them into the dark bottle.

Qiang Huang   Demo at Melbourne   Oil

Using lost edges as a visual bridge can unify a landscape painting giving it both atmosphere and depth.  Marc Hanson is especially adroit at this as illustrated in his painting, "July Mill Pond."

Marc Hanson    "July Mill Pond"     Oil

Without visual bridges each individual image in a painting will be isolated in its own space, causing a stiffness to the work and causing it to be void of atmosphere.  But the lost edge's unique function of engaging the viewer's participation makes it more likely that the viewer will want to look at the painting more than once.



Studio at the Farm said...

Diane, hoping you enjoy your sabbatical. I am truly enjoying your "lessons". Thank you!

suzannepaints said...

Hurry back! This is a tip-top blog! Love the ideas presented with all your beautiful examples.