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Selective focus

In jos

Selective focus

Mesaj  Admin la data de Vin Mar 27, 2009 10:06 am

March 27, 2009

One of the best ways to engage a viewer is with hard and soft edges. California painter Virgil Elliott explains a variety of Old Master illusions in his book Traditional Oil Painting, Advanced Techniques from the Renaissance to the Present. "The edges could be sharpened selectively," he writes, "to call the viewer's attention to an area of greater importance, or to describe an object whose edges were actually sharp, such as a starched collar, sword, or piece of paper."

The idea, of course, is that the artist controls the viewer's eye through selective focus. Interestingly, the use of soft focus came about with the Venetian School, particularly in the paintings of Titian. His use of portable canvas with its slubs and bumps, plus the nature of the newly popular oil media, invited the use of "short" paint and bristle brushes. In the prior Flemish School, "long" paint and soft brushes were more generally used on smooth grounds, producing somewhat consistently hard-edged effects.

Watching folks in a gallery as they demonstrate the fine art of museum dynamics, one notes that it's often the soft blends that bring them in closer or cause them to stand back as they try to focus.

Elliott elegantly describes Titian's use of glazes for dark areas, his wisdom of opaque lights and his scumbling for softening between. A glaze is a transparent wash over a lighter ground; a scumble is a lighter tone dragged over a darker one. "It was found," writes Elliott, "that a scumble over a flesh tone would produce the same effect as powder on a woman's face; that is, it made its texture appear softer."

We've put some examples of both Elliott and Titian at the top of the current clickback. We've also given directions to find some of Elliott's insightful studies online.

Every work of art presents an opportunity to tease an eye. Surprisingly, many artists either don't know how to tease, or don't care to. Minor or major gradations or soft transitions leading to sharp edges generally hold more visual interest than uniformly hard-edged renderings or overall amorphous softies. Driven by the need for maximum power and presence, artists working at the dawn of oil painting quickly grasped the idea of selective focus. The illusion is still freely available.

Best regards,


PS: "I am finally beginning to learn how to paint." (Attributed to Titian at age 90, as quoted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, January 30, 2009, at Davos)

Esoterica: Titian (Tiziano Vecelli, 1485?-1576) was a life-long experimenter with the technique and psychology of painting. In a studio bumbling with protégés, he spent particular effort in the study of colour and its properties, changing his mind and direction often during his long life. He pioneered both transparent and semi-opaque glazes (semi-glazes), as well as scumbles and all manner of calculated softening. Apparently Titian neglected his drawing, leaving that job at times to assistants. Michelangelo thought Titian's drawing was hopelessly flawed, and spread the idea around.

Current clickback: Choices contains reader responses and lively comment on the choices we make along our creative paths. We also include a panel featuring both Titian and Virgil Elliott.

Read this letter online.Please feel free to give your own examples of eye control or opinions on selective focus. Illustratable comments can also be made at

Facebook: Michelle Moore, 20, who manages our free links, thought my face would be okay for Facebook. She put the letter there too. Now she's done it again for Twitter.

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Featured Responses: Alternative to the instant Live Comments, Featured Responses are illustrated and edited for content. If you would like to submit your own for possible inclusion, please do so. Just click 'reply' on this letter or write to

Engage your viewers! A Premium Art Listing in the Painter's Keys Art Directory is the most effective thing an artist can do to be tastefully and respectably noticed. This listing--really a mini web page--costs $100 per year and we do all the set-up. Find out how well it might work for you.

Yes, please go ahead and forward this letter to a friend. This does not mean that they will automatically be subscribed to the Twice-Weekly Letter. They have to do it voluntarily and can find out about it by going to The Painter's Keys website.


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Data de înscriere : 21/11/2008
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Localizare : Timisoara- Romania

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