Newberry Art Tutorials
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Newberry Art Tutorials
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
Find the Shadows and Bring Out the Light a Few Examples from Our Provence Art Experience Workshop
St. Paul Asylum in St. Remy
Our first morning was a bright windy day as we drove to St. Remy guided by Mathieu to visit and draw at the St. Paul Asylum where Van Gogh was a patient around 1888-9. It was also the period when he did many wonderful works. Incidentally, I did my final art history paper on Van Gogh’s painting of the asylum. We saw the VG bedroom and then we started with our first pastel drawing lesson directly underneath its window.
The students under the shadow of Van Gogh’s ghost and unfamiliar with plein air painting/drawing and with each other, and jet lagged they bravely listened to their first instructions. The concern on their faces was apparent.Continue reading “Lessons From France”
Don’t Let the Moment Pass and Go For It!
Several months ago …
Last night I went to bed early after a long day of painting edits, only some of which were successful. While painting I had been streaming movies and TV episodes in the background. One scene in particular caught my eye. It was of a couple kissing, joining lips in classic Hollywood fashion. The scene was stuck in my head when I went to bed around 9 p.m. I woke up at 9:30 p.m., only a half hour later, with that image still in my mind, and I thought, “Why don’t I paint a kiss?”
Right then I messaged my favorite female muse, who lives in Hollywood, and asked her about the project. Then we discussed who would be the right guy for it. The face had to be stone-like in structure, a big nose (I like painting big noses), and masculine. I remembered a male model that posed for some of my other projects a few years ago, and he, I believed, lived in Hollywood. I messaged him about the project, and he told me that he was leaving Hollywood in the morning (today!) for good. He gave the actor’s dream everything he had, and he was also going to be a dad, and he and his mate were heading to a cabin in the woods in Michigan. I searched his FB page and saw pictures of a vibrant, beautiful woman. I asked: “Are you already packed? Would you, could you, pose with your mate tonight for the “Kiss” painting?” He said: “Yes!” My muse loved that I decided to do the project with them, but she also thought I was crazy for doing such a spontaneous thing.
Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light. A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.
Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.
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”
Newberry Art Tutorials
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
With this tutorial I will show how to shape negative space by warping it, thereby creating a believable 3-D image on a 2-D surface.
Painting is made up of positive forms and negative spaces. Think of planets and the empty space between them. In this Rembrandt, one example of negative space is the dark triangular space between the bust, the back edge of the table, and the folds of the man’s sleeve.
Lost in Space
Many artists spend a great deal of energy on making the forms of the solid objects, such as people and tables. But when it comes to the space between the objects they tend to get lost in the emptiness.
Warping the negative space into a shape is the way to go.
This is a detail of the above painting’s negative space. Rembrandt has warped the negative space by a subtle tone shift. The triangular dark shape is more diffused, softer, as it goes back towards the sleeve. And it gets darker as it comes closer to the edge of the bust.
This change is indicated by the gray and black stripe.
Here I isolated the negative space, and stylized it a little bit to show that it is not a flat space. Rather, the negative space curves to come forward, towards the bust, then it goes back towards the sleeve.
This is my favorite Vermeer painting. The back of her head is turning away from us and the collar of the wrap is coming towards us.
Here is a detail of the negative background space.
Notice how carefully the space changes: the tones get cooler and darker as they rotate back around the hair, and they get warmer and lighter as they rotate forward.
Another favorite work of mine is this Monet.
Here is a cast shadow inside the cavernous entrance to a doorway. It is a little tricky to discern Monet’s shifts of tone due to the ornateness of the building, and to Monet’s style of mark making.
But the tones do change and do warp the space. The front edge is flicked with darker tones, shifting the right edge towards us.
Here is a little demo of the idea.
This is a painting by one of my contemporaries, William Wray.
If you think of the rocks as planets and the reflective sand and water as space, you can see how he warped the shape of the water–it comes zooming towards us on a dramatic diagonal.
Vermeer uses infinitesimal changes in tone to carve out space and light.
Yet, he manages to warp the negative space of the back wall with very little changes of tone.
She has the slightest halo of light, which comes towards up to the edge of her headdress. The light then dims imperceptively, receding a few feet back towards the map.
Here again I stylize the concept. The tones of the back wall change to bend the space forward.
Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson.
I wanted to use lots of examples for showing how negative space can be warped. It is really a very difficult problem. But once you have the idea of it, it makes it easier to isolate it when you visually study real life.
The sky in the tent opening changes dramatically in tone to shift the shape of the space.
It follows the inner flap of the opening from some distance away and increases in light vibrancy as it wraps around and swings towards the soldier’s back.
In closing I would like to share one of my own.
This study of the problem gives a good idea how much I warped the space.
I had to shift the space quite some distance from her arm and the back wall to come against the edge of the bust.
Again many artists would simply think that the back is a flat space somewhere back there. But to be true to 3-dimensionality it is crucial to warp the negative space.
I hope you enjoyed seeing true lies in a fresh way.
Newberry Art Tutorials
Light and shadow are two of the most challenging problems facing a painter. Painters can’t harness real light and shadow; instead they must rely on subtle gradations of color to create the illusion.
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1634. Galleria degli Uffizi
In general, I use “light” in painting to mean all those areas which are directly lit by a light source. For example, in this Rembrandt self-portrait most of his face, the glow behind him, some of his hair, and the front of his coat are in the light. The “shadows” are all those areas which fall outside of the light. To demonstrate the division between light and shadow, I cut and pasted squares of color taken from this painting, and divided them into two groups below.
Grateful, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches.
Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.