I'm keeping a list of short notes and quips about painting to think about in sticky form.
Here's a few:
-When painting the iris of the eye, keep its edges soft; it is often in deep shadow due to the brow ridge, and if not, at least from the upper eyelid, whose shadow very often connects the dark shape of the iris to the dark shape that is the shadow of the top lid. And even if this shadow is not prominent, the fact remains that the iris is not a solid object and it is set back in the eye socket.
It is important to consider the location of a piece of color or an edge in space, as this will determine how hard or soft that edge or piece of color should be. Richard Schmid says this of the iris in one of his DVDs in which he is painting a portrait from life.
-"Is what I am about to do going to better or weaken the painting?" (Another Schmid quote)
-Everything in your painting can be determined before you do it... for those struggling with "how hard or soft should this edge be", or "what color is that spot on the nose", all of this can be determined without guesswork. The word 'relative' is very important in art; for example, it is very easy to determine what your hardest edge is and what your softest edge is, what your strongest hue and what your weakest hue is. They are the extremes, absolutes.
Just like moral absolutes and political extremes...the real subtlety and truth lie in between. Absolutes and extremes are important to give a spark to your work. A person without strong opinions on anything could be considered boring, and the same could be said about a painting, whether its a soft (think Eugène Carrière) or hard-edged (Mondriaan and van Doesburg) one. One is not better than another; again, relative is the right word. It is all relative to your goal, what you want to convey.
But to come back to the main point; if you want to know how hard or soft to make an edge, you must consider first your hardest edges and your softest edges. This calibration is what allows machines to put things in their proper place, and we do the same.
Darkest darks and lightest lights in first is a similar sentiment, though there is no need to actually place them on the canvas. What is more important is an AWARENESS of these absolutes, a taking of them into account. Sargent said to work from the middle ground-out, so as to avoid false accents, but you know he was aware of what his darkest and lightest spots of color were. Now Sargent doesn't even have to think about this stuff because of his god-hood, but that's beside the point.
Knowing what something specific is will indirectly teach you what something else is not. This makes the decisions we have to make much easier. However it is all grounded on that one spot or edge we do know for sure. It is like a sound argument; it must have a logical premise, or else the entire argument is pointless. It proves nothing. Our logical premises to the argument that is our painting are these accents we know and understand, like that razor-sharp edge on the nose or that strongly red flesh-tone on the halftone of the cheek where subsurface scattering is bouncing that chromatic light around.
The halftones are what is difficult- of course to say that one must follow what I have read above would also be similar to prescribing to an extreme or absolutist position, and common experience tells us all that absolutes are not natural. Experiment and feel free to disregard everything above to find what works for you. One very absolute thing is that I will very likely come to disagree with what I believe at the present; and that's fine.
The one thing that will help your painting more than anything, much more than reading my shitty blog posts, is painting.