Softening Edges

All watercolourists are familiar with the idea of softening edges.  This means to paint a shape and then touch the edge with a wet brush to encourage the edge to ‘bleed’ a bit.  It’s a lovely effect and can add a lot of magic to a painting.

Since my workshop last fall with Ted Nuttall I now use this technique far more frequently. It has become a front line tool.  I am continuing to find new places to use it and I continue to marvel at the way it can elevate a painting.

Here are three examples to illustrate what softening an edge looks like.  The effect will vary according to how wet the shape is and how much water is used to bleed the edge.

Rex Beanland, watercolour, softening edges







Rex Beanland, watercolour, softening edgesRex Beanland, watercolour, softening edges














Using Softening When Painting An Eye

Here is the type of softening I’m talking about in a practical application.  These 2 paintings of an eye are basically identical.  In the first one there is no softening of the edges.  It looks like an eye and it is fairly colourful but it is also pretty lifeless.

Rex Beanland, watercolour, softening edges

Eye with no softening













Here is the same eye done again but many of the edges were softened as soon as they were applied.  I think it’s fairly clear that this eye has far more character and is far more inviting for the viewer.  It just draws you in so much more effectively and the only difference is the softening.

Rex Beanland, watercolour, softening edges

Eye with softening













 Softening The Edges In Action

Recently I took a picture of a snow drift in our backyard and it was tailor made for practicing softening the edges.  Here is the painting.

Rex Beanland, Snow Study, watercolour, 9 x 12

Snow Stud





Softening the edges is a simple tool but extremely effective.  Two little comments are 1) that it does take a bit of practice to get it right (but just a little) and 2) when used extensively such as in this snow study it can take  more time to finish the painting than with a direct method.  In portraits it can take a lot more time.

Upcoming Workshop At The Leighton Centre

Just for interest I will be teaching a workshop at the Leighton Centre this June on watercolour portraits and we will be looking at this idea of softening the edges extensively. If you are interested contact me for the details.

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