Light and shadow are two of the most challenging problems facing a painter. Painters can’t harness real light and shadow; instead they must rely on subtle gradations of color to create the illusion.
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1634. Galleria degli Uffizi
In general, I use “light” in painting to mean all those areas which are directly lit by a light source. For example, in this Rembrandt self-portrait most of his face, the glow behind him, some of his hair, and the front of his coat are in the light. The “shadows” are all those areas which fall outside of the light. To demonstrate the division between light and shadow, I cut and pasted squares of color taken from this painting, and divided them into two groups below.
On the left are squares taken from the shadows from his face, coat, hair, and the wall. Notice how extremely close in dark tone they are.
On the light side, there is a larger range of colors and hues.
The thing to understand is that in the light areas the painter has more freedom with the whites, oranges, grays, yellows, blues, greens etc. But, in the shadow areas, the painter must be very careful to keep the shadows homogenous. Rembrandt painted all the shadows as if they were covered by a dark veil.
Monet is another painter known for his wonderful light, yet he is quite different from Rembrandt.
Monet, Impression, soleil levant, 1872. Musée Marmottan Monet
Here Monet is not making dark shadows, yet he is making his shadows homogenous by linking them with a blue hue. It is as if he placed all the shadows under a blue filter.
In Monet’s light areas he has painted both warm and cool colors. If you squint your eyes looking at the color charts below, you can see the larger range of color in the light section.
Both Rembrandt and Monet are doing similar things; their shadows are very subtle and they use both warm and cool colors for their light areas.
I hope you enjoyed seeing shadow and light in a fresh way.
Portrait Triangulation Time-Lapse 24 sec. One of the great drawing tools is triangulation. You fix two points, for example, the bottom of the chin and an earlobe, from these two points you find the angle of a third point. You now have three points of reference. Using any of the two points you established you find another third point. It resembles something like a star chart.
When the axis lines are erased you end up with a very natural looking object.
27-sec time-lapse of a pastel color study for the painting Adam. Pastel on dark paper is drawing pure color vibrations – pulling out the color and the light. The technique I use is to build towards the light using spaced strokes and a light touch.
Thanks to Dana Ross for the video and audio.
About expressing being one with the Universe, anatomy, how does the light drive home the theme, color theory, and layers of techniques that merge with the theme.
On October 6th, 2003 The Foundation for the Advancement of Art presented this conference at New York’s Pierre Hotel. Stephen Hicks gives the introduction to the conference and to Michael Newberry’s talk, Innovation in Art. Part 1
0:09 Stephen Hicks Introduction
3:03 Michael Newberry Innovations in Art
4:11 Zuburan, Mondrian, John Moore
6:05 Color and Light Theory, Vermeer, Monet, Rothko, Rutkowski
7:59 Illustration of Ideas, Bosch, Magritte, Larsen
10:48 Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Newberry
12:54 Form, Henry Moore, David Smith, Martine Vaugel
14:17 Sublime, Egyptian, Michelangelo, Stuart Mark Feldman
Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. In the Fall of 2017, he has a solo show at the White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.
For the last year or so I have been painting from the most distant background space and carefully painting in stages to the foreground. I love it! It helps create spatial movement as if a spatial pattern emerges. It also enables me to take more time with details knowing that I don’t have to redo them a thousand times. I can’t say if it is easy or not, I have a few decades of painting every day, but it has worked well with students. Try it!
Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive
Courbet, The Painter’s Studio, 1855, oil on canvas, 12 x 20 feet
Representational art students are taught to be critical. During critiques, the stress is on the work’s problems. It is not uncommon to see students turning red with embarrassment or anger. Sometimes one will cry. Aside from a bully or two, most of them will accept the critiques as a necessary evil. “Grow a tough skin” is said to oneself and others. The idea is that in the art world only the tough survive.
Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting
Part 2, Color
This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are a means to place identities/forms through spatial depth.
In Part 1 I discussed how this theory works with gray tonal scales and in paintings with limited color range. Let’s see what happens when we introduce intense colors.
It’s important to note that contrast in color is not so much about light and dark but, rather, it is about color opposites. For example here is a classic color wheel in which opposite colors, also known as complimentary colors, are juxtaposed. Three major contrasts are:
Red vs. Green
Blue vs. Orange
Yellow vs. Violet
Art Tutorial Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 1, Black/White
This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.
We have examples of artworks from 30,000 years ago to the present in which artists have worked with spatial depth in their drawings and paintings. I have been fascinated by this phenomenon and, for years, I have asked myself how did these artists achieve these startling effects. The result of my query is the formulation of the concept that:
Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are the means to place forms in spatial depth.
Transparency will place the forms in depth away from us, and contrast will raise them towards us.