A Little Greek Pastel Painting Trip by Michael Newberry

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Years ago I took a pastel painting trip of a lifetime, for three months I traveled from Athens, Greece to many islands, eventually to Istanbul, and slowly back again to Athens. My first island was Tinos, from the harbor I rented a scooter, booked a tiny house outside of town for 15 dollars a night. The porch had a sloping view over gray-green olive groves down to the dark and brilliant ultramarine blue Mediterranean, about 300 ft to the left was a small, room-sized luminous white-plastered Byzantine church. 

My first day I loaded my backpack with my 200 piece pastel set, and packed several sheets of full-size pastel paper in my large portfolio bag, swung the bulky bags over my shoulder. Weighed down, I then swung my right leg over the scooter and the momentum carried me, the bags, and the scooter to crash to pavement. Laying painfully on my side, the pastels scattered on the ground, and with the scooter pinning me down I couldn’t get up. An elderly Greek woman dressed in black tending the church next door witnessed it all. And she kindly helped me get up through my blushing burn of embarrassment. Once I was upright she helped me collect the pastels. Not speaking any English, she took my arm to follow her to her favorite view of the church, and through hand gestures suggested that I draw it. 

Continue reading “A Little Greek Pastel Painting Trip by Michael Newberry”

5th Through 12th in the Animal Lifted Embargo Series by Michael Newberry

Newberry, Retriever, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"

I worked till 6 am getting these ready to be signed. So far this week the series has 12 little paintings, the recent 7 here. The Animal Lifted Embargo Series has significantly changed my opinion about including animals in my paintings. They really help set off the scale and atmosphere of the landscapes. I am surprised that just two tiny marks, in the case of the sandpipers, can reset the landscapes dramatically.

If you click on the images in will take you to each painting’s page on my archive including the pricing. If you love one of them be sure to let me know and we can make owning it happen.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/9/2020

3rd and 4th in the Animal Lifted Embargo Series by Michael Newberry

Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, San Miguel, 2020, oil, 9×12” I taught a workshop in Mexico sometime ago, this was on the way to San Miguel de Allende from San Luis Potosi, originally there were no horses, I just painted them in today. Haha, before you complain they don’t look like horses, they are only 1/4″ high in the painting, I am not a miniaturist. I think they look cool regardless.
Newberry, Teton Twilight, 2020, oil, 9x12”
Newberry, Teton Twilight, 2020, oil, 9×12” This was from another workshop I taught, in Wyoming. The inclusion of the horse does something interesting: it completes the pair of trees in a nice rhythm. It also gives a jolt of life to the landscape. In a very tepid way I am giving a hint of romanticism to the landscape.

With this Animal Lifted Embargo Series, I am refining my hierarchy of subject values. Humanity is at the top, consequently, I paint/draw individuals filling the universe of the canvas or paper space. Animals are a far distant second place, recently insignificant, but I am now enjoying placing them in landscapes as minor players. It makes me feel peaceful and the experience of painting them feels a bit magical. If I made them the same size as humans (allowing perspective truth etc) I would be extremely uncomfortable with that.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/7/2020

Newberry, Seagull at Picnic Island, 2020, oil on panel, 12×16″

Newberry, Seagull at Picnic Island, 2020, oil on panel, 12x16"

Just signed, 2nd in my Animal Lifted Embargo Series

Newberry, Seagull at Picnic Island, 2020, oil on panel, 12x16"
Newberry, Seagull at Picnic Island, 2020, oil on panel, 12×16″

hahah, I am enjoying the animal lifted embargo. I can’t stand painting little people in landscapes, makes my skin crawl when I see other painters do it. I love plein air painting being outdoors in a beautiful place just painting what I see, it feels like channeling the universe’s energy. But all landscapes have abundant life seen and unseen. For instance, while painting this there was behind me a pelican ferociously nose-diving into the water to pinch fish. Its only this last week I lifted the embargo on painting animals–I kept thinking of those horrible paintings of animals dressed as humans playing billiards or smoking cigars around the poker table. Can you imagine the psychology of the person that sees themselves that way? “Don’t mind me I am just a pug dressed as a human.”

There is an exciting tension in placing an animal just right, it seems to set off the landscape and definitely twerks the composition, like a zigzag incorporating the direction of the light, the bird’s flight path, the feeling of “lift,” setting off the formal composition of the water and land masses. Delightfully fun.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/5/2020

Doggie at the Beach and an Aesthetic Musing

Newberry, Doggie at the Beach, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"
Newberry, Doggie at the Beach, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"

Just finished this. Taking a little one week break, perhaps two, from painting on Model in the Studio, I am revisiting some small plein air paintings. A departure for me is that I painted in this dog into the landscape. Artistically I love what it did to the composition, creating a “<” axis from the highlighted glimmer to the dog, then to the bottom right corner. I also love the mood of it. In the past I have rejected doing animals because humanity is at the forefront of my mind. I love my dog, Frida, and she loves me, but she doesn’t even glance at my art. :(

Some very interesting aesthetic problems with philosophical implications are the size of the subject in relation to the canvas and what that subject is. I know this sounds highbrow but bear with me, or at least indulge me to share the kind of thing I think about when painting. Most of my definitive works feature humans and their size dominates the canvas–they feature prominently in the painting’s universe. Landscapes serve well as a back drop for human activity, or when it is just a landscape there is an implication that we as humans are looking at it through a window of our beautiful home, or a view from a hike, or day at the beach. Though, if you take a naked landscape literally, with no humans present, it could imply that humankind does not exist–a very interesting rabbit hole to go down. There are also the cases of massive landscapes with tiny itty-bitty people implying that humanity is insignificant to the awesomeness of the universe. But seriously, if there are no humans or aliens, the concept of a caring or meaningful existence simply wouldn’t exist. My conclusion is that humans are top dogs when it comes to the humanities and to our psychology.

Many friends have asked me if I have painted Frida, which so far is a “no.” I just can’t bring myself to do a dog portrait (though I did one as an 18-year old for a fraternity brother as a fine art major). It feels like I would be elevating them above humanity. But with this new mini series with smally painted animals accenting the comparatively larger landscapes, it definitely feels like a massive “YES!” It makes sense to me that animals figure in our universe but do not rise up to the stature of humanities uniqueness, which art, philosophy, language, politics, and spirituality matter. So it is official!–I have lifted the animal embargo and now feel free to paint animals as long as they are tiny enough not to upsurge humanity.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/1/2020

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this, you must have some interesting ones.

The Surface Vs. 3D Paradox Solved

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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.

Workshop Series: Pastel, Let the Color of the Paper Work for You.

Newberry, Santa Monica Lamp, pastel

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.

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, then focus on 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

Driven to paint Plein Air

Newberry, Sunrise Hwy, oil on canvas, 9x12"

The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.