Pastel on Dark Paper – Just Add Light

Pastel on Dark Paper – Just Add Light by Michael Newberry

Pastel and dark paper are a great combo to create light effects.

Whenever I am a little stressed or some of my big projects weigh on my mind I get out pastels and some nice black or beautifully dark paper, like a Cansons, and go to town.

I love working pastel on dark paper for one important reason: the pastel being lighter than the paper directly creates a pure colored light.

I remember being in a kind of down mood and when Kimberly arrived to model I wanted to shake off that mood and feel free. We collaborated on this pose, one quite difficult to hold for more than 2 or 3 minutes.

The paper is black Cansons, 19 x 26″.

Pastel on Dark Paper

You can start with any color you like, but it is important that the tone of the pastel is only one notch lighter than the paper–just enough so that you can see your marks. The blue outlines here are Prussian Blue, one of the darker blues

In this image, I am beginning to block out the entire paper. The background walls in reality are white and the floor is a wood floor. When I work with pastel, on of the things I ask myself is whether the color is warmer or cooler. The white of the wall is cool and the orange of the floor is warm. Then taking a cool dark color, almost any kind of blue or green, which is one step lighter than the paper, I blocked out the background wall. Then, with the same idea, yet with a warm color, a dark burnt orange, I did the floor, her body, and the shadow of the cloth.

My particular style of mark making with pastel is hatching. I like to keep the color as pure and direct as possible and layer different colors one on top of another to create nuance.

It’s also important to leave some space between the hatching, to let the paper come through. There is limited “tooth” to the paper and if you solidly cover the paper, after 10 steps down the road, the pastel won’t “take” anymore. In other words, there is nothing there for the pastel to adhere to and nothing happens.

Pastel on Dark Paper

The idea is to gradually add light and color one tone at a time starting with those dark tones just one step lighter than the paper.

Here is the completed, blocked out image. The cloth in real life is Canary Yellow, and I blocked it in with a dark orange about two tones lighter than the paper – I knew it was going to have more layers of color added to it.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Now comes the light part. My focus here is to add another layer of color in the light areas, one step lighter than what came before. Parts of background wall and floor are in dark shadow, I am leaving them alone.

I like to add one layer of light in an area, careful to step up the tone slowly, then stop and go to another area. Here I brought up the yellow cloth, then I went to the floor and to her body. Then I added a third light to the cloth and to her body. Notice the slight pinkish quality of her chest in contrast to the gold of the cloth.

One technique of looking I cannot stress enough is squinting your eyes to look about you–squint and compare with your drawing. Squinting keeps your focus on the essential tones of the light and shadow. In other words, it keeps your focus on the forest and not on the individual trees.

Note about mistakes: if you find that you messed up an area, there are two quick solutions to that. One is to totally wipe out the area with a paper towel going all the way back to the original tone of the paper. Or, take a pastel that is the same color of the paper and gingerly hatch a few strokes of that in the area and it should refresh the area considerably.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Here I stepped back to re-assess where I was in the drawing. I went back into the background realizing its darkest area was lighter than the darkest area on the floor. I added more light to the cloth and added more detail to the light hitting Kimberly’s body. And I add some hot color, red, to her left arm’s cast shadow.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Our session was winding down. At this point, Kimberly could only hold up the cloth for about 20 seconds.

Now I got to blast the highlights! It takes some discipline to wait on the highlights, after all they are the first thing I was attracted to in the image. But, trust me, it is worth it.

The biggest mistake artists make is after they get one great effect with a highlight they indiscriminately highlight other areas with the same tone and color. Mistake! Don’t do that. It kills the eyes’ interest.

It is imperative that you distinguish the color, intensity, and brightness of your highlighted areas. Here, the light on her breast was the lightest area, slightly pinkish. Next was the intense yellow highlight just left of her right breast. The third brightest was the deep yellow of the cloth above her head. And the fourth was the less intense yellow under her left armpit.

This is not a finished piece, but I find it a wonderful color sketch that I had a lot of fun doing–and it totally shook off the ill mood I had before we began the session.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Pastel on dark paper will help you see light in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, May 2006

Lights and Darks in 3’s

Lights and Darks in 3’s by Michael Newberry
One big problem that artists face when developing light and shadow in a work is that they tend to have the exact same darks and lights scattered around the surface. The result is that it kills the life out of the drawing!

A great way to solve that problem is to celebrate a hierarchy of lights and darks. The simplest way to do that is to focus on three different tones of lights and darks.

Here I will take you through what I mean.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Dreams of Round Things, 2006, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26 x 19 inches.

After I had lined up the proportions of Kelly, I was ready to organize my tones.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The real-life background was a dark, cobalt blue felt air mattress. Since the darkest object was going to be her hair, I chose the mattress as my 2nd darkest object.
Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I have two things blocked out–her dark hair and the background.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I added my third dark–her cast shadow on the floor. Next, I started on the lights. The highlight on the wood floor was going to be my least brightest of the lights.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

My choice for tones was not arbitrary. I compared and contrasted all the tones in my field of vision. Kelly has a lovely light skin, so I knew she was going to be the lightest thing in the drawing, even though she was predominately in shadow.

After I mildly block out the light of the floor I was ready to start on her. The light on her leg looks almost shockingly bright, but, technically, I knew that brighter whites were to me.

For you artists, I was using soft charcoal pencils and a kneaded eraser. The kneaded erasers are wonderful for lightening the paper, yet it takes some hard erasers to bring out the brightest whites.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here everything is blocked out. I clearly have dark, darker, and darkest : the cast shadow, the background, and her hair.

For the lights, the highlights on her shoulder, breast, and forearm are the brightest. The rest of her body is the second brightest while the surface of the floor is the least bright.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
For the rest of the drawing, I am molding, tweaking, and detailing her and the background–being careful to be well aware of my hierarchy of lights and darks.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Towards the end of the drawing is the easiest place to lose sight of your hierarchy of the lights and darks. For example, I began to add the details of the shadows and highlights of the mattress’ circular cushions. There were many really dark shadows, and, of course, the mistake would have been to make them as dark as her hair. So it took some discipline to make them as dark as possible without stepping over the boundary to my darkest black.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The consequence is that her hair has a kind of brilliant, rich freshness to it that would have been lost otherwise.

It should be a lot of fun for you to try this technique out–or to look for a hierarchy of lights and darks in other artists’ works. Enjoy.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 17th, 2006

Rhythm a Beautiful Way to Organize Chaos

Rhythm a Beautiful Way to Organize Chaos by Michael Newberry

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Joseph, acrylic, 16 x 12 inches.

This is a portrait of a friend, architect Joseph Castro, with dark brown leather as the backdrop.

Any complex subject is visually chaotic; with incongruent shapes and lots of details. When you look at something like a person’s face or a panoramic landscape there are a million things to look at – out of all that stuff which do you draw/paint? One of the fun and great challenges for an artist is to organize this chaos in a meaningful way through the use of visual rhythms.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Joseph in conversation would often raise his eyebrow and curl his lip. I noticed how these two things curved into arches, and arches would become the visual theme.

Visual rhythms are made up of similar or complementary angles, contours, or lines.

In the process of composing painting I was looking for shapes and lights that could “double” for an “arch.” Was it possible that I could accent an arch of the lip, nose, brow, collar, or ear?

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

The more I looked for them the more I saw “arches” everywhere. A consequence of looking for rhythms is that you don’t get lost in details but are constantly looking over the whole painting.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

Here you can see all the rhythms of detail of shapes and light I was seeing in his face. I would like to mention that I was not making them up where I did not see them in real life.

Joseph Castro, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 12 inches

The folds in the leather background were perfect for finding more “arches” to accent and to integrate the whole painting.
Michael Newberry

Advancements in Painting Light

Advancements in Painting Light by Michael Newberry
Light delights us. In paintings is easy to see, but the development of it through history is anything but simple.It has been the focus of some of the world’s greatest artists. It is worthwhile to get a glimpse of some of the innovative artworks that advanced light in painting.

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

Light in a painting is tied primarily to the form of the objects. Also, it has a yin/yang relationship to shadow. No shadow, no light. An artist will use light and shadow to mold forms.

These horses’ heads from the Chauvet Caves in France are a great example of forming with light and shadow. It is awe-inspiring that this artist had this knowledge 30,000 years ago.

Chauvet Caves Horses
Horses’ Heads, Chauvet Caves, 30,000 b.c.

In contrast to the Horses’ Heads, this flat image of a Minoan fisherman is without light. It is a fresco painting from Santorini, 1650-1500 b.c. The images are recognizable by their blocked-out silhouettes (like a cardboard cut-out).

I really like the colors and the balanced silhouettes of this image, but it lacks the substance of light and form.

Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
There are few examples of ancient Greek painting. Here is one faded example from the tomb site of Alexander the Great’s immediate family.

The addition of light complicates visual imagery. It catapults a flat image into a 3D universe. It imbues the image with more weight and realism–closer to how we see real objects.

Here we can make out shadows molding the mouths, eyes, chins, and undersides of their arms.

 Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai.
Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai. The only complete example of an ancient Greek painting that has yet been found.

In these Pompeii frescos in Italy, we get some idea of what might have been classical Greek painting.

The environment is bathed in light. Notice the hierarchy, a key component in creating light, from the bright light behind the two woman and the more muted light between the bull’s legs.

Also, notice the light’s sweep up the half-naked woman’s torso.

Roman Europa

Europa and the Bull, 1st C. AD, Pompeii

This is a great example of the artist using light to bring out the form of anatomy. Notice the flicks of highlight along the man’s arm. And the flow of light along the woman’s torso.

Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern  Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern
Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern

Renaissance artists’ works are noted for attention to extravagant details. In The Arnoflini Portrait below notice the tour de force of exquisite details. The painting is very neatly broken down to each object’s color group: brown for the fur of the coat and dog; pale flesh tone for the people; red, green, and purple for the clothes.

The light here takes a subservient role. It is used to simply set off all the details of the objects. Light is coming from behind our left shoulder. But there is also light coming in from the left far window, behind the couple. This can set up objects competing with each other for our attention.
The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

In this da Vinci we have one light source, unlike the van Eyck work above.

Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5
Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5

Here is an important, though a subtle difference in developing light in painting. Notice the women’s shoulders. Van Eyck used just enough light to give shape to the green cloth and white scarf. In contrast to that, da Vinci cloaked a sheen of light over both her flesh and cloth of her shoulder.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

leonardo-da-vinci-lady-with-an-ermine

Raphael makes a great breakthrough with the light in The Dilerverence of St. Peter below. He takes the idea of the halo, yet he wants to make it feel real. Behind the angel is glowing light, as if the light was coming from the end of a tunnel.

An interesting phenomenon is the transparency of the angel and it’s wing tips. Often I have shown students a fact of how translucency works. You need to have a bright window in a room full of shadow. Then you hold up your finger: half of it against the light and the other half against the shadow. Then you squint looking at your finger. You will see a very delicate border dividing your finger, making it literally transparent–exactly like the angel’s wings here.

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514
Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

The flatness of this symbolic halo is a good contrast to the realism of the Raphael. Actually, there is some effect of light on his forehead, collar, and hand, but the light is by no means consistent.

St. Nicholas, early 14th century
St. Nicholas, early 14th century

Caravaggio went after light with a vengeance. He dramatically contrasted light adjacent to dark. Notice the boy’s eye with its startling brilliant highlight and almost black shadow.

In exploring these high contrasts, Caravaggio ran into some spatial difficulties–Goliath’s head doesn’t feel like it is a yard in front of David. Rather, it rests on the same plane. Contrast with the Rembrandt below.

David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610
David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610

On the other side of Europe, Rembrandt was taking light further than any previous artist. Rembrandt spotlighted the people and things in his paintings. He used light to highlight the things he wanted us to focus on. But he also solved the difficult problem of spatial relationships. It is quite simple for us to track the spatial relationships of all the people in his painting. Contrast that with the David above.

It is interesting that The Night Watch setup is similar to the van Eyck couple portrait. In both paintings, there are two light sources, one from behind us left, and from further back left.

Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642
Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642

The key difference between the two paintings is Van Eyck used light to heighten all the details, while Rembrandt stylized the light, making everything else subservient.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

It is impossible to talk about light in painting and not include Vermeer. Radically different than Rembrandt in style, Vermeer pushed the envelope of how far one could realistically perceive light.

I could spend volumes in comparing nuances of light effects here. Let me just point out one for now.

 The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61

The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61

Vermeer Milkmaid demo light

Just above her head there is an extremely subtle pink tint, somewhat in the shape of a rectangle. It is probably the cast light formed by the shape of the window. Lower right, behind her body, are several, increasing subtle shifts of cooler colors than the pink tint above.

Vermeer’s eye probably sees more nuanced light shifts than any other artist, before or since.

This is part 1 in the innovation series on light. In part 2 I will show how artists developed the light based on complimentary colors.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 24, 2007

Imagination

Imagination by Michael Newberry

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Imagination is one of the cornerstones of art. Its use can be quietly subtle, or flagrantly push beyond the bizarre, or inspire generations of people to dream beyond their immediate circumstances and envision a world of possibilities.

One of the more quiet ways to use imagination is to recreate a real scene from life, yet include additional real objects to complete the idea of the work. Here, David Gallup created an idyllic setting of the Pacific Ocean replete with dolphins, birds, and surfers.

Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946

Here Dali uses some realistic elements and then distorts aspects of them to create an imagined world in which the unbelievable interacts with the real.

Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881
Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881

A variation on the unbelievable subject with the real comes from Gerome’s Pygmalion and Galatea. He conveys the legend of the sculpture of Galatea being so perfect that the stone turned into living flesh. Gerome does make the far-fetched scene look as if this is really happening.

Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913
Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913

Kandinsky’s Sea Battle conveys a rather freewheeling imagination – an ambiguous collection of forms and colors. Is that a strawberry or blood? A wing of a bird or a splash of water? A sail? A rock? It’s rather like looking for animals, and things in the shapes of clouds.

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People uses a great deal of imagination in the subject, a half naked woman leading the masses in a revolt against a regime. Yet, the scene is meant to feel genuinely real–not like a surreal dream or like an impossible physical transformation.

By how an artist expresses their imagination, such as an escape, a playful distraction, as entertainment, or as a beacon, one can get some insights into the artist’s philosophy of life. And see something of your reflection as well.

I hope you enjoyed imagining art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, March 2009

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

Oil Paint Glazing

Oil Paint Glazing by Michael Newberry

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing is one of the greatest tools in the artists’ repertory that no artist should be without. It is relatively easy to do, creates beautiful luminosity, and can free a painter’s inhibitions.

There are many variations on glazing, but I would like to show you the method I like best.

For this demo, I am only glazing, but glazing also works great in combination with other painting techniques, and for delicate finishing touches.

Start here by drawing the composition with a soft and sharp charcoal pencil.

Glazing Technique Demo

Blend a little mars black and raw umber with lots of painting medium to create a fairly drippy consistency, and start painting from light to dark.

Medium

Years ago I used the classic oil painting medium of 1/3 dammar varnish, 1/3 turpenoid, and 1/3 stand linseed oil. Since then I have cut out the varnish and turpenoid because it toxic and I paint every day, and those toxins add up. I love to paint with medium and do so outdoors while painting plein air. The one other new info I have is to use Safflower oil, it is the best medium for true color and no yellowing.

Note: This glazing technique also works great with acrylic paints, substituting water for the oil.

The glaze application should be transparent, almost runny. The idea is that it should tint or stain the canvas, creating see-through layers. For those of you familiar with watercolor, the oil paint glaze should look similar.

Glazing Technique Demo

Watercolor Effect

As with watercolor, you want to apply the tones in one or two goes. And you can blend in a little oil paint directly on the canvas to make an area darker.

Warning: don’t fiddle too much with the wet paint, because at some point the paint will not adhere to the canvas. If this happens, simply let the canvas dry then resume painting.

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing Technique Demo

Glazing Technique Demo

To create the subtle effects of light, it is important to tone the entire canvas, then add lights.

Glazing Technique Demo

Wipe the area with a cloth or paper towel, blue shop towels are the best! I can’t say enough great things about this wiping method – it is intuitive and gives a lot of feeling to your image.

Glazing Technique Demo

If it needs to be even lighter, dip a clean brush in medium and apply it directly to an area, diluting it, then use a paper towel to wipe off the excess medium and paint.

Glazing Technique Demo

Now we have a finished stage of painting using glazing.

For a more realistic effect, let this dry and continue glazing for darker areas and details. But, to lighten areas and details, switch techniques to scumbling.

You can continue to glaze and scumble for countless layers. But, remember that the painting medium can act as a solvent, just as water does for a watercolor. So, only paint one layer at a time, let it dry, and then resume.

Final note: glazing works incredibly well with color. Look for that has an upcoming tutorial.

I hope you enjoyed seeing technique in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, June 2009

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression by Michael Newberry

One of Postmodern Art’s important contributions to art history is cheek. But, far from being simple, there are several requirements that need to be met for a successful postmodern work.

The recent Marco Evaristti exhibition of canned meatballs cooked in his fat inspired me for a moment to see what idea I would come up with if I were a postmodernist. It would have to be a new medium of artistic expression and, at the same time, solve several PM requirements. The thing would have to be temporal; use the body of the artist in some fashion; reference an aspect of mass production; be an unorthodox medium; and use the natural force of one’s spontaneous genius (Kant).

As you might imagine, solving these demands is no easy feat.

Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco.
Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco. Marco Evaristti recently exhibited canned meatballs cooked in his liposuction fat.

Think about the variety of unorthodox mediums PM artists have used: straw (Kiefer); human excrement (Manzoni); elephant excrement (Ofili); urine (Serrano); blood (Quinn); islands, buildings, trees, etc. (Christo); rocks (Smithson); earth (Turrell); toenail clippings (Jones); sperm (Meste); Vaseline (Barney); mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup (McCarthy); and, of course, human fat (Evaristti, above).

My thoughts are going along the lines that it is absolutely imperative that a postmodernist use a medium that is unique to art, yet, is common to the human experience. The result should be temporal. Here today, gone tomorrow kind of stuff. Piffft, piffft. Something that bypasses argument and is distasteful–important PM qualities. That’s it! Flatulence. Canned flatulence. Yes. Flatulence d’ Artista. No, wait, don’t go off dismissing my idea too quickly. I think this has merits.

Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d' Artista, canned flatulence, 8x2 1/2x2 1/2"
Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d’ Artista, canned flatulence, 8×2 1/2×2 1/2″ $ priceless

Think about it:

1) It’s temporal, it instantly dissipates, there is no waiting around for weeks on end for a Christo project to come down or for Merde d’ Artista to decompose.

2) It uses the body as a stool … I mean a tool of artistic expression.

3) It’s a unique medium, and so minimalist that it’s totally transparent. There is no painting white on white. In fact, way beyond that it is almost nothing. Yet it leaves an unmistakable suggestion of our experiencing it, experiencing something subliminal, and, depending on the taste and the good sense of the audience, something sublime.

4) It’s mass produced, or at least it has the reference of being mass produced. And it is something that every human has experienced and produced, yet they have never thought of as art, until now.

5) It’s a natural force of one’s expressive genius. No explanation needed. After all, Kant has said that: “[Genius] cannot indicate scientifically how it brings about its product, but rather gives the rule as nature.” Genius in art is an explosive force with no thought about its coming about.

6) And this artwork is interactive. Say some boorish acquaintance comes along and fills your space with thoughts that smell suspiciously of romanticism. You get out your can of Flatulence d’ Artista, piffft, piffft. This lets him know exactly the position you take on that! Piffft, piffft, pifffffft.

So when it comes to Postmodern Art, be clever and use a little cheek.

Michael Newberry
New York, June 2007

Note: Sometimes it is helpful for an artist to contemplate the absurd. Michelangelo once wrote a viciously satirical reply to the Pope’s request for gigantic marble sculpture in which several massive blocks would be needed. Michelangelo outlined that if the subject were a smoking man, he could hollow out a smoke shop at the base, ground floor, charge rent, and even create a funnel and chimney, in which smoke could escape through the marble pipe. The concept of using marble as building blocks was the antithesis of Michelangelo’s prime concept that the figure is inside the block of marble waiting for the artist to release him/her.

Michelangelo wasn’t simply ranting, he was examining the aesthetic issues of the concept of using blocks to create a sculpture, and the absurd directions that it could lead.

Likewise, with my satire above, I am seriously looking at possible PM pathways, and drawing the conclusion that postmodernism is a crippling aesthetic.

MN

Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art

Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art by Michael Newberry

Erotic Symbolism in Art
O’Keeffe, 1923, Grey Line with Black, Blue, and Yellow

Representational painting, such as landscapes, people, and furniture, is normally viewed at face value. A flower is just a flower; a chair a chair. But the manner in which an artist uses shapes can convey more than the literal content of the painting.

Once you grasp how an artist plays with shapes to convey another layer of meaning it can open up a universe of deeper insight and, sometimes, powerfully erotic subtexts. You may never see art again in the same way.

When thinking about erotic symbolism in art Georgia O’Keeffe springs to mind. The painting to the right is a detail of a flower, but it is also an excellent visual symbol of an open and flushed vulva.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
At first glance you see a flower and, on reflection, you might grasp features of female anatomical details such as the clitoral hood, the clitoris, the labia majora, and the labia minora.

O’Keeffe is making an interesting statement in associating the vagina with a flower. The vagina is to humanity what a flower is to nature: it is life-giving, beautiful, and fragile, yet resilient.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
O’Keeffe, 1924, Light Iris
Continuing with another O’Keeffe painting, notice that there are no sharp vertical lines here. Rather, there are organic, fluid shapes and outlines. These shapes are easy metaphors for the soft lips of the labia and the yellow bud serves for the small erectile body of the clitoris.

There is a strong sense that we are entering into the flower, but we also get a sense that inside is a whole new universe open to us.

Erotic Symbolism in Art
Velázquez, The Surrender of Breda

A painting that has intrigued artists, such as Dali, is The Surrender of Breda by Velázquez.

This painting is loaded with phallic shapes: vertical, rigid spears, as well as thrusting weapons meant to penetrate human flesh.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

Erotic Symbolism in Art

On a less obvious note, the spears in the upper part of the canvas are balanced below by phallic shapes of the men’s and horse’s legs and the vertical negative spaces between them.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

In a fantastic stroke of scope, Velázquez incorporated feminine, fluid, organic forms into the panoramic landscape. It is as if the organic landscape is imprisoned by the bars of weapons and the soft feminine mounds of earth are pressed underfoot by the rigid men’s legs.

Though this painting is literally about the civil and very polite-looking surrender of Breda, it is not a stretch of the imagination to see, through Velázquez’s use of erotic symbolism, that this painting is really about destructive rape.

Erotic Symbolism in Art

Going back to the first O’Keeffe, it’s easy to see that the inner lips are made up of phallic shapes.

I find it amusing that in constructing this painting O’Keeffe used phallic shapes, not as a dominant force as in The Surrender of Breda, but in subservience to the feminine whole.

I hope you enjoyed this escapade in seeing art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 15th, 2006

Ellipses: Don’t Start a Still-life Without ‘Em

Ellipses: Don’t Start a Still-life Without ‘Em by Michael Newberry

Ellipses make or break any drawn plate, glass, or bottle. When beautifully done they transport the viewer to experience serene harmony. It’s rare not to have a man-made cylindrical object in a still life.

It should not be surprising that da Vinci painted/drew beautiful ellipses. This detail is a from The Last Supper–it is the plate in front of Christ.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

The outer side, top, and bottom edges of the ellipses are always perfectly aligned: straight up and down and straight across on the horizontal. Think of a “+” sign.

Below, I overlaid the plate with a “+” in purple. This process is really pure math. Most artists make either the right or left side unbalanced and fail to keep the two outer edges on the same horizontal plane.

The exception to this would be if the surface that the plate is on or the plate itself is tilted. Then you would tilt the “+” to correspond with the tilt of the object.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

A tricky part about ellipses is that there is a slight discrepancy in size between the back half of the plate and the front half. Notice that the top half of the green box is smaller than the bottom half.

In perspective, as objects are further away from us, they shrink; and as they are closer to us, they expand. Hence the difference between the front and back halves of the plate.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

In The Last Supper, the edge of the table is also horizontal which might confuse us about the ellipse’s horizontal. But if the table is on a flat surface and not tilted, the plate would always be perfectly horizontal no matter what perspective we have of the table.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

Here, for example, I have changed the angle of the table. The plate would still remain horizontal.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

The last very important thing about ellipses is that the rim gets rounder, more circular, the further they are placed either above or below our eye level.

“Eye level” is literally the horizontal plane which is the same height as our eye, hence the term “eye level”.

In the diagram below, the blue line represents our eye level. The green ellipses get progressively rounder and open more as they get further way from our eye level.

For example, if you were looking across to a book shelf that had several shelves containing plates, the closest plate to the height of our eye level would have a very narrow rim, and a very wide rim on the lowest shelf.

If the bookshelf were up to the height of the ceiling and way above our eye level, the same thing would occur-except that we wouldn’t see on top of the plate, rather we would see it from below. This means we would only see the front half of the rim, as the orange rims suggest. This means we would only see the front half of the rim, as the orange rims suggest.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci
Here is an example of ellipses from a recent charcoal drawing of mine. The eye level is somewhere near the top of the paper. There are three bowls and one plate; all on different heights below eye level.

The highest bowl has a very narrow rim and the black plate at the bottom of the paper has the roundest rim.

I hope you enjoyed seeing, in a fresh way, this very technical and mathematical side to the still-life.

Himalayan Flight by Newberry
Newberry, Himalayan Flight, 2006, charcoal on Rives BFK, 19 x 26 inches

Michael Newberry
New York, August 30th, 2006

Feeling the Form

Feeling the Form by Michael Newberry

Feeling Form demo

If the artist is going to convey reality, getting the forms right are absolutely essential. The realist artist is also at a disadvantage, in that if they present real objects, these objects have to have believable forms. As simple as forms look in art, they are one of the most difficult things to accomplish.

For example, no spectator is going to believe that the woman’s breasts were concaved, or that the sphere was flat.

You might have heard it said that if you can draw an egg, you can draw anything. There is quite a bit of truth to that statement. So, let’s start with an egg.

Feeling Form demo

For this demo, I used a real egg as the model. I outlined it in a middle-gray tone, not in black.

Many amateur artists outline the edges of objects with very dark lines and forget about the form that made the edge; the result is that it flattens the shape, almost irreparably.

Feeling Form demo

If artists can hold in their minds that the edge is the completion of the form, it will help them a great deal.

To show you what I mean, I have taken the outlined egg and stuck it inside of a transparent box.

The “X’s” mark the points where the egg meets the sides, top, and bottom of the box. The bold “X” is the closest to us, and the other 4 “X’s” are half-way to the back of the box.

I marked the closer edges of the box much darker than the outline of the egg in order to show that the sides of the egg are further away than the front.

The first thing to grasp about round forms is that the edges on the side are further away from us. It is what is in-between the edges that expands and comes towards us.

Feeling Form demo

Here is a bird’s eye view of the box and egg. We are looking down as if at a floor plan.

Feeling Form demo

A great tool to “see” form is to imagine reaching out with your hand and figuring what are spatially the first, second, and third things you will touch.

In this case, it is the center of the egg that is the closest to the hand, marked with an “X”.

Once you can see how forms expand towards us, you have mastered part of the form problem.

Feeling Form demo

Now the really hard part begins. Molding the egg with line or tone is really difficult. Here you can see that I am using a cross-hatching technique. The lines (mark making) go around the form, sometimes overlapping (cross-hatching).

There is no sure-fire way to make these lines successful, but I find the best way to do this is to imagine that you are massaging the egg, or whatever form it is, with your thumb.

Feeling Form demo

I literally will hold out my thumb and imagine it gliding gently over the forms. Whatever direction my thumb takes, I will make my drawing marks go in the same direction.

There is a point when drawing feels like literally caressing the form, and not merely scratching the paper.

When I have taught this massaging technique to classes, of up to 22 students, I have always gotten amazing results. Aside from understanding how to draw forms, the students have drawn the forms in their unique “voice.” I am convinced that when they concentrated on massaging the form, the pencil’s touch became personal.

Give this technique a go and I am sure you will benefit from it.

Michael Newberry
New York, January 14th, 2007