Workshop Series: Composition!

Some Guidelines For Great Compositons

In my workshops students have plenty of time to compose the work, the line drawing set up before painting begins. The following tutorials show techniques you can focus on as you map out the painting’s composition.

Composition in One Easy Lesson

Van Gogh, demo
For demonstration a markup of Van Gogh’s bedroom in St. Remy. This was one of our wonderful locations in our 2019 Provence Art Experience Workshop, and might be on our itinerary in 2020.

The lesson in three words: Make interesting corners. In this tutorial I show how some of greatest artists of composition, Vermeer, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, Diebenkorn, and Velazquez make fascinating shapes and lighting in the corners. It is a very simple way to get the most out of your composition without having to remember a million rules!

Abstraction in Representational Art

My mark up of Rembrandt’s One Hundred Guilder Print, showing how he grouped light and shade into large abstract shapes incorporating several figures. Abstracting is handy way to organize a composition.

Though this tutorial is not strictly about composition it will be helpful to see how one can organize abstract shapes in a compositional way. Using Rembrandt, Kline, and Monet I show how they group things into broader abstract shapes. This is an extremely powerful technique that gives the viewer an epic journey through the big picture.

True Lies Warp Negative Space

A markup of a detail of one of Monet’s Cathedral paintings. The gray and dark gray stripes mark the darker, closer edge of the doorway’s shadow and the lighter, further away edge of the shadow. A very exciting and dramatic tool to breath passion into your work.

A very surreal artist’s perspective but indispensable to give life to your painting is accenting the negative spaces of things. I go into detail showing how Monet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, myself, and William Wray manipulate negative space to create a sense of movement in the painting. If you can take a few seconds, while composing, to check the negative spaces it will add tremendously to making a powerful painting.

Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

A still life from Melissa Hefferlin, one of the greatest artists of composition alive today. Her biggest strength is balancing negative spaces.

This is a very helpful article on how Picasso and Hefferlin arrange their compositions, and how Melissa manages to do so in a realistic way.

When you are taking a workshop with me you don’t have to hold all this info in your head, that is my job, but it is good to read up on these tutorials. I hope you enjoy them and I guarantee you that adding them to your technique will feel great and raise your art up a few levels.

For more about studying with me please introduce yourself and your work via email, mtnewberry at gmail dot com.

Workshop Series: Triangulating the Composition

From Simple Placements to Super Complex Things

The very first thing I teach in workshops is to compose using triangulation. It is a sight method of finding two main landmarks then triangulate to find the third landmark. The problem: when you are just drawing freely it is easily to over generalize, and it doesn’t take much to mess it up. Instead of getting a beautifully natural looking landscape, portrait, or building, you are left with something warped. Often master artists use variations of triangulation and other techniques in their mind’s eye, so you don’t see them literally draw in angles, so it appears like magic when they place things perfectly!

In this pastel drawing I started on the left bank drew the direction of the slope to the right edge, using my finger or pastel stick to mimic the slant. Then using the same technique finding the slant of the center of the palm in relation to the 2 edges.

Triangulating a portrait. 25 sec.

The video above thoroughly details the process. How to use the pencil as a view finder, and using an imaginary clock face. This lesson makes for an excellent class. About 10 min.

In our last workshop in Provence, the wind really picked up and sought refuge in a wonderful church. A church interior had a high vaulted ceiling and windows placed in curved walls, they triangulation really helped get those nuances. This is the demo from there, time-lapse, 34 sec.

Another excellent lesson is Composition in One Easy Lesson, it is about how to make for a brilliant balance within the frame.

BTW, the French Workshop was an amazing experience. Join us for the next one!

Michael Newberry

Workshop Series: Find the Shadows First

Newberry, House Bridge in Rhodes, pastel

Then Add Light!

One of the most important lessons I teach in my workshops is to find the shadows first. It is almost a guarantee that if you find interesting shadows then the rest of your drawing or painting will work!

The hard part is that looking for shadows (cast, core shadows of the thing, and areas of dark) is counter intuitive, most people look for the color and a beautiful thing. Trust me, without the shadows it is a lot of work with little to show for it. In my pastels below you will probably notice the light and color, but what set up each one were the blocks of shadows.

The process starts with a dark paper, compose with any dark medium color playing special attention to main shadow areas. In cases with shadows of a yellow or white building, I lighten the shadow, but only one or two tones up from the paper. The rest is a lot of fun, leaving the shadow areas alone, the focus is not the light and color areas, adding light by subtle gradations until I finish with the brightest light.

Join us in Provence France, September 7-16, 2020

Cheers,
Michael Newberry

Time-lapse, Triangulating Interior of a Provence Convent

Provence Convent

Time-lapse triangulation of a magnificent convent in France. 34 sec. One of the lessons from our @ProvenceArtExperience workshop April 2019, was how to draw this church’s beautiful interior using triangulation. It is an awesome technique which artists can use to place a few objects like a group of trees and a pond, or more complex things like a portrait or figurative work. The idea is to use two landmarks as anchors and sketch in the direction towards a third point/landmark, making a triangle, now armed with three points you map out like star chart all the relevant points. This process elegantly solves issues with perspectives, foreshortening, and proportions. I think it is the best path to arrive at beauty.

John’s Sunset by Michael Newberry

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"

My brother committed suicide and this is a memorial drawing.

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"
Newberry, John’s Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26×19″ Studio Collection. A few years ago I got the sad news of my brother’s passing. The moment I heard I knew I would be doing a memorial drawing. I was a little scared to do it, I didn’t get along with him, and I thought it would be very painful. The drawing took about 25 hours, from life. We grew up in La Jolla, and atop Mt. Solidad is a large cross made from cement, I guess it is 30 ft, perhaps much smaller when I see it again as an adult. At the top of the glass rim, was a glint of light which I wanted to suggest as a cross. John was discovered floating in the La Jolla Cove. The most surprising thing for me while drawing this, was that my memories were softened by empathy.

A Reddit commentator gave condolences and then wrote “I love the grain of the table magnified by the water in the glass.” That names so well the visual.

The Problem with Glass

Michelangelo paints and draws humans not so much how he sees them but what his hands would feel massaging their bodies. Bone stands out and soft spots become indented. Glass is tricky because we literally see through it but if you draw it that way it doesn’t feel tactically real. See if you can observe that the patterns inside the glass float up to the front side of the glass; as if you could reach out and tap the glass.

Michelangelo’s Drawings: The Conceptual Transformation from Touch to Sight

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.
Michelangelo, Pieta, 1519-20
Michelangelo, Pieta, 1519-20

Conceptual Flip

One of the most rewarding studies of painting and drawing is discovering how a thought, perception, or emotion is transformed into a purely visual medium. Michelangelo’s drawings serve as examples of translating the perception of touch to sight. In other words, his drawings convey to our sight not what we would see but what we would touch.

Continue reading “Michelangelo’s Drawings: The Conceptual Transformation from Touch to Sight”

The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

The Problem: A Bright Sky

In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.

The Lie

Claude Monet Landscape
Claude Monet

Continue reading “The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting”

Eye Excitement: Why Ruins?

Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection

I have noticed lots of artists including myself are drawn into drawing abandoned places, scruffy landscapes, weathered shacks, and stone ruins. While a manicured lawn or polished mahogany conference table inspire a blau reaction. There is something visually exciting about the chaos of ruins but what is it that is triggering our vision? And why are paintings or drawings so boring when they are of pristine subjects? Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea van Doorn (a link to their abstract on pictorial space) talked with me over beers in Glasgow pub about how the eye goes blind if it cannot move about and compare and contrast tones and hues. Using my artist’s logic it makes sense that on the opposite end of the spectrum the eye becomes excited when each hue and tone is varied. My pastel of a rickety courtyard gate in Rhodes, Greece illustrates this.

Notice the gate is drawn with all kinds of unrepeated colors. The plastered gold side of the wall has countless hues ochre, and medieval stones are equally varied with its shifts between brown and gray. It seems like a lot to try to do in a 50-minute drawing, but I was helped along by all the setting’s details were all extremely varied. If you are an artist looking for something interesting to draw look for differences in everything. That will keep your eye busy and excited and the viewers’ too.

Michael Newberry

Mark Making Movement in Pastel

Newberry, Woven Baskets, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Newberry, Woven Baskets, pastel on dark paper, private collection

There is a smoky quality to dark pastel paper that has a depth and softness of the infinite. I am surprised that some conceptual artist hasn’t done a show using store bought pastel paper with nothing drawn on them. Nonetheless the paper calls for light, and I try to leave much of the original paper to give a depth and mystery to the shadows. The bowl’s cast shadow on the left and background right are almost pure paper. If I draw careful gradations of light from a smidgen lighter than the paper to the brightest lemon-white I create a hierarchy of tones which in turn is a part of giving the feeling of light. An equally important but overlooked part of drawing/painting light is to place the marks through space, like stepping stones from beneath our feet that extend off in the horizon. Combining the dusky shadows, light, and depth transforms flat paper into an alternative reality. This bridge is what I find magical about art.

To see more my Pastel Archive.

True Lies: Warp Negative Space

Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

True Lies: Warp Negative Space by Michael Newberry

Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Picasso

With this tutorial I will show how to shape negative space by warping it, thereby creating a believable 3-D image on a 2-D surface.

Painting is made up of positive forms and negative spaces. Think of planets and the empty space between them. In this Rembrandt, one example of negative space is the dark triangular space between the bust, the back edge of the table, and the folds of the man’s sleeve.

Lost in Space

Many artists spend a great deal of energy on making the forms of the solid objects, such as people and tables. But when it comes to the space between the objects they tend to get lost in the emptiness.

Warping the negative space into a shape is the way to go.

rembrandtDP

This is a detail of the above painting’s negative space. Rembrandt has warped the negative space by a subtle tone shift. The triangular dark shape is more diffused, softer, as it goes back towards the sleeve. And it gets darker as it comes closer to the edge of the bust.

This change is indicated by the gray and black stripe.

negative space sketch

Here I isolated the negative space, and stylized it a little bit to show that it is not a flat space. Rather, the negative space curves to come forward, towards the bust, then it goes back towards the sleeve.

Vermeer, Girl with the Red Hat

This is my favorite Vermeer painting. The back of her head is turning away from us and the collar of the wrap is coming towards us.

redhatD

Here is a detail of the negative background space.

redhatDP

Notice how carefully the space changes: the tones get cooler and darker as they rotate back around the hair, and they get warmer and lighter as they rotate forward.

Monet, St Romain Soleil

Another favorite work of mine is this Monet.

monetDP

Here is a cast shadow inside the cavernous entrance to a doorway. It is a little tricky to discern Monet’s shifts of tone due to the ornateness of the building, and to Monet’s style of mark making.

But the tones do change and do warp the space. The front edge is flicked with darker tones, shifting the right edge towards us.

negative space demo

Here is a little demo of the idea.

Wray, Crystal Cove

This is a painting by one of my contemporaries, William Wray.

CrystalDP

If you think of the rocks as planets and the reflective sand and water as space, you can see how he warped the shape of the water–it comes zooming towards us on a dramatic diagonal.

Vermeer, Woman holding a Pitcher

Vermeer uses infinitesimal changes in tone to carve out space and light.

vermeerDP

Yet, he manages to warp the negative space of the back wall with very little changes of tone.

She has the slightest halo of light, which comes towards up to the edge of her headdress. The light then dims imperceptively, receding a few feet back towards the map.

negative space demo sketch

 

Here again I stylize the concept. The tones of the back wall change to bend the space forward.

Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson

Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson.

I wanted to use lots of examples for showing how negative space can be warped. It is really a very difficult problem. But once you have the idea of it, it makes it easier to isolate it when you visually study real life.

rembra34D

The sky in the tent opening changes dramatically in tone to shift the shape of the space.

rembra34DP

It follows the inner flap of the opening from some distance away and increases in light vibrancy as it wraps around and swings towards the soldier’s back.

Newberry, The Sculptor

In closing I would like to share one of my own.

This study of the problem gives a good idea how much I warped the space.

SculptorDP

I had to shift the space quite some distance from her arm and the back wall to come against the edge of the bust.

Again many artists would simply  think that the back is a flat space somewhere back there. But to be true to 3-dimensionality it is crucial to warp the negative space.

I hope you enjoyed seeing true lies in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry