How Michael Newberry rediscovered the role of color in creating the illusion of depth and space.
The Grizzly Professor
Edgar Ewing came through the door. The students beheld a tweed suit topped with a grizzly gray mustache and sparkling blue eyes. He moved with the melody of confidence and the whimsy of delight. He set down his case on the table, spread his arms, and smiled at the the classroom of freshman students. “Making art,” he announced “is like making love.”
The students looked at one another with sidelong smiles, most of them inexperienced with one or the other part of the metaphor, and certainly not fathoming the connection between the two. It was the first day of a fundamentals of oil painting class at USC. The year was 1974. To read more and see large images at Medium
There was a crazy split in art history between the modernist perspective of being true to the surface of the canvas vs. the classical window looking at out the world. Paradoxically, both are true but they missed what connects them: light and color vibrations dance on our cornea’s surface.
The recent color charts below are a range of colors of different tones and hues. The project was to bring each color up to the surface, they feel about 1/8″ above the surface as if they are painted ceramic chips. I successfully tweaked them until the paint raised the vibration of the color. Then I began editing small 9×12″ paintings from a trip on Route 66. In each I brought the color vibrations up to the surface yet maintained the “window on to the world”. Notice the rocking horse’s cast green-yellow shadow, and how it rises to the surface yet still resonates as a shadow.
Armed with this new insight I have been applying it to my current life size humanist work, a nude at home in my studio sanctuary. Integrating this new process will be my evolutionary project for the coming years.
Colored and dark papers can save you precious time and give you amazing effects. When I paint/draw/teach plein air I try to nail the impression in under an hour, it is a race against the planet moving. As the sun slowly moves across the landscape you will see new cast shadows, new lights, after 3 hours they all cancel each other out leaving you with muck. So in keeping the time short using the dark paper can be a huge advantage.
The idea is the paper is your dark areas, sketch in the composition and leave the darkest part alone. From there you focus on bringing out the light, driving towards the light, with the last touches happening in the last few minutes before your hour is up! This approach works wonderfully and it feels magical while doing it.
One of the reasons why leaving the paper alone as darks works is because shadows are the absence of light. The darks don’t need details or labor, leaving them alone creates a atmosphere of mystery that is a perfect foil for all the lights you will be drawing. Save time, effort, and create magic by leaving lots of paper alone. Enjoy!
Below are my pastel landscapes all in under an hour. Take note of the dark areas are just paper.
I drew this the other evening from a live model. It is play on Duchamp’s Nude Descending and I have thought of doing a painting with this overlapping concept, we will see. The concept is not new, it happens all the time with life drawers doing quick poses, or a continuous pose, when the model moves very slowly from one pose to another and artists draw it as quickly as possible with overlapping marks. It also happens with Renaissance drawings even with cave paintings, dues to running out of surface.
Today I uploaded these pastel still lifes to my archive. They are in my Idyllwild studio’s drawing drawers. There is difficult oxymoron in painting and pastel which is that color kills light and light kills color, but I think with these I achieved the perfect balance bringing out the best of both. At the moment they are available and upon sale they will be framed with museum Tru-Vue glass, the best, no glare all you see is the beauty of the pastel and paper.
An important part of being a true artist is exploring visual knowledge. In this series of small 10×8″ paintings I tested my hypothesis that the hue (color) of shadows would have similar hues in spatial depth. The idea was gleaned from two things: looking at landscapes when the distant mountains are blue and there is blue in the shadows of everything including in the foreground. And from my study of the colors of the light and shadows of Rembrandt and Monet, what was different yet similar between them.
At first glance of my paintings above look fairly natural and you will notice the simple objects gently lit. Which is a good thing. This implies that the hypothesis is working. They each have a different color base: red, black, burnt umber, manganese blue, ultra marine blue, gray, and sienna. This means when a lit white stripe in the foreground enters into a shadow it will merge with that shadow’s color base, for instance if the base is manganese blue the white stripe now turns turquoise. The real complexity begins when the further you go back in space the colors of things take on more manganese blue hues.
This fits with a classical view of warmer colors come forward and cooler colors go back but what happens when we reverse this and give the shadows the hot red or sienna and use those hues to blend with the background colors? Yay, it still works in the sense of creating depth and light. As soon as the first artists started painting real things like horses on two-dimensional cave walls there was a paradox that it was a lie and a truth. The advantage of being able to work with radically different color schemes gives the artist more emotional range and visual options. And it gives the viewer more to look for in the world around them.
I painted this color study last night watching the Dem debate, quite tricky in the sense of getting all the colors to “rest” on the surface, so there is no sunken or dead colors, and if I can bring it to the surface the color feels alive. I have a kind of magical touch in pastel but painting doesn’t come as easy to me, so this was a way of challenging my oil skills. In life and art I like celebrate my strengths and I always work on my weaknesses, a saying I believe in is that you are only as good as your weakest link. Raise your weakness to a strength and your confidence and inner strength become genuine.
Study Pastel Plein Air with Michael Newberry in France
Join us in the Fall of 2020 for an great pastel workshop visiting sites of outstanding beauty and history guided and hosted by the knowledgeable, kind, thoughtful, and local expert Mathieu Brousses, and taught by internationally acclaimed artist me, Michael Newberry. Comfortable living situation, with all meals either prepared by a French local, picnic, and local bistros.
“Mathieu in addition to being so creative, gracious and generous as a host, is just a great human being full of patience and wisdom. His knowledge of French culture and our various venues ensured that each day was filled with delight.” Dan Zimmerman, participant in the 2019 Provence Art Workshop.
For Fall 2020 we plan to use Luberon as our hub. Here are samples of our possible itineraries:
Our host Mathieu Brousses
Some pics from last month’s workshop in Provence, May 2019.
About our teacher Michael Newberry
I taught several plein air painting and pastel workshops in NY, Mexico, Greece, Santa Monica, Italy, and France. And I formally taught Life Drawing, Composition, and Painting at the prestigious Otis College of Art and Design. When I am not teaching you will find me painting in my cabin studio under the monumental granite outcrop of Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild, California, accompanied by my studio assistant doggy, Frida. More info on my extensive bio here.
Dan Zimmerman’s reflections on our 2019 workshop:
I was a bit nervous about the workshop, very similar to coming back to school after summer vacation, wondering if I had forgotten everything I had learned the previous term. I just knew, even before going on the trip, that I would be with like minded people passionate about art. I loved the fact that the other students, Susan and Luxman, were both as convinced as I was of the talent and teaching ability of our instructor! Our accommodations were good, and my memory foam mattress was so very comfortable! I think I would have rather stayed on a ground floor, but the stairs were ok :) I think our cook Agnes’ daily dinners were such a wonderful part of the whole experience.
The teaching was a good balance between being flexible and relaxed, and focused, hard work! What I mean by that was I feel we all really applied ourselves and tried to learn as much as we could from each situation. Because of our small class size, we each received lots of attention and this was really invaluable. After my initial success that first day, my confidence level went way up and I was able to enjoy the whole experience.
I thought all the sites we visited were just superb. We certainly adjusted things well when “le mistrail’ blew so hard, and it lead to one of my most treasured drawings, the fruit basket ‘still life’.
Yes, several lessons learned: 1. Look for the shadows, drive towards the light, 2. Make your corners interesting in composing a picture, 3. If you share the ‘perfect picture’, there’s no need to search for another “perfect” shot. 4. The feedback of my peers was a very enriching experience.
Yes, I highly recommend this workshop!
If you are interested in attending please contact me, email@example.com or Mathieu at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can plan accordingly and make a spectacular and meaningful experience happen.