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. 

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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.

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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.

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