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

Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

Continue reading “Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes”

Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art

The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.  

June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit. 

An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying

The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way:  it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!

Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel 

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center

The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion. 

A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine. 

Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.

Continue reading “Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art”

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.

Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019

Dream of Art History by F. Scott Hess

The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019

Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.

Sandra Yagi
Sandra Yagi, photo Studio Channel Islands

It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.

Continue reading “Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019”

Transcending Oblivion

Oblivion cut

 

Title change from Man Moving Out of Oblivion to Transcending Oblivion

I have been living with the Man Moving Out of Oblivion for about ten years. The concept is one of a man stepping out of a black void into a ray of light with his hand leading the way. The painting has been through countless edits–everything from life drawings to pastel color studies. I had problems with his arm and hand gesture from the beginning, and it was a lengthy but fun and challenging problem to solve: the hand and arm went from being slightly sideways to ending forward and foreshortened.

 

The transparency of the clothes over a muscular body reminded me of super heroes, which complimented the idea that it takes a lot of strength to keep going when all around you is dark. There was a narrow spot light on his face meaning that his gestured hand had already past through the light and would be dimmed. The painting had thousands of tones of black, which was very tricky to place through space. Recently, I thought I could tweak it and take it to another level. There had been no collector interest in the painting, so I thought “why not?” Continue reading “Transcending Oblivion”

Rhythm a Beautiful Way to Organize Chaos

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

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.

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Composition in One Easy Lesson

Composition in One Easy Lesson by Michael Newberry

Cezanne, Still-Life with Apples and Oranges, 1899

Cezanne, Still-Life with Apples and Oranges, 1899

There are unlimited possibilities for what one can do with a composition; the combinations are countless. A composition is essentially the arrangement of objects/forms within the border of the canvas or paper. The aim of this tutorial is to illustrate that there is one essential ingredient to a superb composition.

Continue reading “Composition in One Easy Lesson”