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       "You can give your background
        an out of focus effect
        by softening the edges."


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    Demonstration of a softened edge

How to Soften Watercolor Edges

  • Degrees of Softness
  • Method 1.
  • Method 2.
  • Method 3.

There are going to be times while you are painting your washes and charging your watercolors that you will want an edge or several edges not to appear hard, but soft, as when rendering the gentle folds of fabric and lace, or a kitten's fluffy fur.

Softening an edge is a technique that is used to make a hard edge soft or blurred while your watercolor wash is still damp or wet.

A softened edge is another way to transition a color's value, at the same time shaping and forming your subject matter. This technique also allows you the freedom to place a touch of watercolor in an area that has been previously painted and soften just those edges, all without having to pre-wet or paint the entire area first.

Degrees of Softness
How soft you want the edge to appear determines the amount of water you will need in your brush. For a tighter; more controlled look, you would soften the edge with a clean moist brush (how to make your brush moist is explained here How Moist is Moist). For a much softer look, you would soften with water using a clean brush that had a little more water in it than the moist brush.

How to Soften Watercolor Edges  -  Tutorials
Method 1

A full swoop of the brush.
Example of a softened edge using method 1.
Demonstration of method 1.
First, using clean water, rinse the brush you have just painted with, blot your brush until it's moist and then in one full swoop of the brush, soften along the watercolor's wet or damp edge. The color will charge into the newly wetted area. Rinse out the brush again, blot, and soften the new, lighter-value edge. Repeat until the watercolor stops charging into the softened area. This depends on how far you want the color to change and how soft you want your edge to be.


Method 1

Several strokes of the brush.
Example of a softened edge using method 2.
Another way to soften a watercolor edge is similar to Method 1, except instead of using one full swoop, you soften the edge using short, continuous brush strokes. This will give a very soft look to your edge.


Method 1

Continuous motion of the brush.
Example of a softened edge using method 3.
Demonstrating the first part of method 3.
After painting a short distance, I go back to the top and gently push the flattened tip of my moist brush slightly into the edge, then slightly pull some of the color out, push back in again, then pull slightly out. The motion is similar to a narrow zigzag stitch on a sewing machine. I do this at a medium-to-fast speed.

When I reach the bottom I do not lift my brush from the paper. Instead, I reverse the direction and go back up the softened edge, continuing to soften with the same narrow zigzag motion.
Demonstrating the second part of method 3.

When I reach the top, I rinse out my brush, blot, and repeat the same softening technique on the new, lighter-colored edge. This method allows the watercolor edge to be consistently softened, while still maintaining its original shape. It also causes less of the lighter value of the color to show along the softened edge.

personal note  I developed Method 3 for softening my outside edges, so I could create a soft edge without having to compromise the outline of my shape. This remains to be my favorite method, and the one I use most often to date. Although Method 3 can be a little rough on your brush, I have personally found the end results in my paintings to be well worth it.

NEXT:   Edge Softening Effects   

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