Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive

Art Tutorials
Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive

Courbet_LAtelier_du_peintre.jpg
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.

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Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 2, Color

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.

 

colorwheel.JPG

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

yellowdot.JPG

 

In this diagram, blue-violet is the background color and the discs that come the  closest to it in color recede, while the yellow one, its opposite, pops forward.

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Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, September 1888
Oil on canvas, 81 x 65.5 cm
Rijksmuseum Kroller-Mueller, Otterlo

This Van Gogh painting has an intense blue background and the orange-yellow café comes forward. Notice the buildings beyond the café are variations on darks and blues. The window straight up above the café  is literally transparent but if you look closely you will see the blue sky winking throughout sections of the buildings, giving them a transparent quality as well.

Continue reading “Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 2, Color”

Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 1, Black/White

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.

Great artists are doing other spatial things as well: lighting, modeling form, and perspective drawing. But for this talk, I will focus on this transparency issue.
The first figure shows a gradation of light to dark stripes on a white background. The stripes ascend like steps towards us as they get darker. The darkest “pops” out in contrast to the white background. Conversely, the lightest of the stripes recedes into the distance of the white surface.

BIGBLACK.JPG

 Similarly, the discs “move” through space because of their relative lightness or darkness to the background and each other. The big black disc jumps forward.

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Notice what happens when the large disc changes to light gray, it recedes significantly beyond the small black one.

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Chauvet Cave, 30,000 B.C.
Horses’ Heads from the Chauvet Cave dated 30,000 years ago. Notice the gray scale of the receding heads and the black modeling of the head closest to us. Also, notice how the light gray of the surface also comes through the receding heads literally making them transparent.

MONETW~2.JPG
Monet, The Thames at Westminster, 1871
Oil on canvas, 47 x 72.5 cm (18 1/2 x 28 1/2″)
National Gallery, London

This Monet is an excellent example of this idea. We first see the blackness of the pylons, and the other objects dance back into space by the degree of how transparent they become, how close to the gray of the background they match.

BIGWHITE.JPG

When the background changes to black, the principle of transparency still holds true. The closer to a black tone the background becomes the discs further recede; the white pops forward.

TWODOTS.JPG


Here we have two white discs, a large and a small one; now we have an example of perspective; the bigger one comes a bit more forward than the small one.

 

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Rembrandt, Hendrickje Bathing in a River, 1654
Oil on panel, 61.8 x 47 cm
National Gallery, London
Due to the extreme lightness of her body, she comes forward off the background off the dark background. Notice the transparency of her left shoulder; it sends her left arm back away from her chest. Rembrandt is working with a gray/brown/black scale, not with a full range of color. He sets objects back by making them merge to this dark tone. Compare the brilliant lightness of her shift to the middle tone glow of the material behind her on the bank. Her lightness is popping her forward.

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Here we have a gray background, the discs that come forward have become either more white or black respectively.


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Michelangelo, Christ on the Cross

In Michelangelo’s Christ the closest part of his body to us is his right knee, then it would be his right big toe, and then his left chest. These areas have the greatest contrast between light and dark. Compare the high contrast of tone of his right foot to the more muted left foot behind. Or compare the transparent area of his left knee to the intense light and dark of his right knee. Also, notice that his arms share a depth of space and have an equal range of tonal value that is less high in contrast as his forward knee. Also, notice how delicately transparent the background figures are.

I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting. Part 2 will cover how this theory works with color.
Michael Newberry
New York, May 2006

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

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