Exchange with social media friends – Firm and Soft Edges in Drawing

答網友問 – 素描中的虛與實

Dear Mr. Yim, I love drawing and have watched your drawing video lessons many times. I’m mesmerized by the firm and soft edges and texture in your drawing and would like to emulate, but it’s hard for me to put the theory of firm and soft edges into practice. What is your advice for mastering firm and soft edges in drawing?


My reply:

Firm and soft edges in drawing is an artistic concept.

The firm and soft edges are but manifestations of the subject in the artist’s eye. The subject has its own existence regardless of firm or soft edges. Take the rose for example. It’s neither beautiful nor ugly in itself. We think roses are beautiful because people project their own emotions and aesthetics onto the roses. Firm and soft edges are a result of human observation and representation.


畫中的虛與實是一個概念。是一個藝術的概念。虛與實的作畫者眼中是物體呈現的一種現象。而物體本身是一個自在的存在,無所謂虛與實。就如玫瑰花,它本身並無美不美的問題,我們認為玫瑰花美,是人將感情、審美意識投放在玫瑰花身上的緣故。有人的觀察和描繪,才有“虛 ”與“實 ”。

The phenomenon of firm and soft edges is caused by the structure of the human eye. The way a concave lens is used for focusing is why sights can be in or out of focus. When people look at a drawing or painting with just a single field view, they instinctively try to define a hierarchy for the firm and soft edges.


When untrained artists observe objects, their gaze skips from focal point to focal point, so there is no hierarchy and no difference between the firm and soft edges. In other words, they are not observing the scene holistically. Holistic observation can therefore be considered a result of training. The field of view is expanded during holistic observation so that the firm and soft edges of objects can be compared and correctly judged. When we say something feels a certain way, it is the result of such observation and judgment. Without holistic observation, that feeling is bound to be incorrect.


The form in the front is generally treated as being firm while those at the back are treated as being soft. Obvious transition from shape to shape is firm and gradual transition is soft.  Strong contrasts between light and darkness are firm, and weaker contrasts are softer. And so on…

One of the characteristics of a good drawing is clear relationship of firm and soft edges. Perspectives are the foundation of drawing. Planar analysis enhances representation of volume. And rhythm of firm and soft edges is manifestation of the artist’s creativeness.


To create a drawing with great rhythm of firm and soft edges, first, avoid drawing from photos.

Use straight lines to block in and planar analysis to build shapes. Under a single source of light, because there are values and planes, there are firm and soft edges.

Planar analysis is the process of dissecting the subject into planes and can only be obtained through training. When you put planar analysis into training, when you can see planes in the subject, then you can see the major blocks of light, medium and dark values, and the value gradation within each plane, then there is the rhythm of firm and soft edges.