Australian Fine Artist

Advanced Seascape Painting

Third in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Creating Emphasis – Edges and Lines

There are several ways to create emphasis or direct the eye to a focal point in a painting. The variety of edges in your painting is one of these methods. Soft edges allow the eye to move on to another area whereas sharp edges automatically attract the eye and this is where you want your focal point. Another way of describing this method is ‘lost and found edges’.

Five methods of directing attention in a painting

  1. Including figures
  2. Selective use of strong colour
  3. Application of strong contrast (tonal values)
  4. Specific lines and shapes (bold strong shapes)
  5. Careful selection of soft and sharp edges


The principle of lost and found edges has nothing to do with your particular style or method of painting. It can be applied equally as well to abstract as it can to realist, expressionist or modern impressionist styles, as well as various mediums from pastel to water colour or oil painting.

20th-21st Century

During the 20th century it became popular for artists to use colour and values to create emphasis rather than lost and found edges, as modern styles of painting became dominant. The lost and found method however, still remains a valid method of creating depth, focal points and directing movement around a painting.

Where to place hard edges

During the past 20 years it has become popular to place hard edges towards the front (foreground) of paintings. Like the effect from using a camera, it is believed that the closer something is to the viewer, the sharper the edges. Whilst this can help to create depth in a work by softening the background, it doesn’t help if the focal point is there or in the middle area of your painting. Sharpening the foreground will automatically direct they eye away from your focal point if it lies elsewhere, and of course, if you have both with sharp clear edges, it will become confusing where you want that focal point to be.

Edges tie areas together and separate them

Remember that edges can combine areas together or can separate them. By using similar values (light colours near each other for example) and soft edges, objects can seem to merge or become less dominant. By using contrasting values of light and dark, or cool against warm colours, and sharp edges, a clear focal point is created.


When you look at your subject, try to work out where you want your main area of interest to be. That is where you need to place your contrasts and sharp edges. This will mean interpreting rather than copying, so be prepared to study what you are about to do, decide on how you will tackle it, and then paint.



Try doing two versions of the same scene. Change the focal point using sharp and soft edges to see what happens and how the eye is redirected around a scene by altering where you place your sharpest edges.


Below is my painting from this session. I have circled where David added to it to indicate how I can be more adventurous and bolder with my brushstrokes. My focal point was a lot smaller, and he went in with a couple of bigger strokes to show me that I am still being a bit too conservative. Something I will continue to work on.


If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him via his website at:

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: