Outlining Shapes Can Be Surprisingly Freeing

Watermedia artist Carla O'Connor demonstrates how a simple line can improve your shapes and create more interesting edges.

Rather than box you in, outlining a shape can open up a world of new edges, colors, and textures. Watermedia painter Carla O’Connor shows you how.

“Ann at SAM” (watermedia, 15 x 15 in.)

“In the classroom I would often see an artist start off with great enthusiasm, run out of steam, stop, rest, evaluate, and then get stuck and have trouble starting the painting process again,” says Carla O’Connor. “I would suggest the simple act of outlining a shape or edge with a complementary color. That got the juices flowing again and also helped identify and define transitions for the edges of shapes.

“As a bonus, it would create another shape that could add more interest to an edge, whether it be a solid or a broken line. It could also be treated with texture or a change of color. For the realist painter, it helped soften hard edges and eventually became a tiny nudge into abstraction, and the potential and power of unpredictability. When done subtly, outlining creates transitions, which are usually not even noticed by the viewer. They just feel right.”

“Breakthrough” (watermedia, 40 x 30 in.)


  1. This is very timely for me as I am trying to create an image of a man kneeling at the feet of what might be a Heavenly figure, not very clearly defined, a big vague. etc. etc. Will try and follow your advice.


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