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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The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned

A Newberry still life recreating how depth gives a feeling of movement between objects.
Olaku's use of twilight to convey depth, light, shadow, and reflections.
Abiodun Olaku, Conversations, oil on canvas, 2014. An excellent example of a contemporary artist integrating form, light, and depth. And notice the groupings of people, as if the more we look we will be able to hear their conversations. Compare this to famous postmodern artists below with their empty, flat, trash devoid of human empathy or perception.

Mediocre artists, forever disappointed that they don’t match up, have a hard time acknowledging history’s great artists.  Michelangelo, Monet, Vermeer, and Rembrandt are hard mentors. One way second-rate artists work around this is to change the rules of aesthetics. The most extreme case is postmodern aesthetics, which obliterates the importance of mastery of the medium, or using any medium at all, and believes shock concepts are the essence of art requiring no skill.

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Ellipses: Don’t Start a Still-life Without ‘Em

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

Ellipses: Don’t Start a Still-life Without ‘Em by Michael Newberry

Ellipses make or break any drawn plate, glass, or bottle. When beautifully done they transport the viewer to experience serene harmony. It’s rare not to have a man-made cylindrical object in a still life.

It should not be surprising that da Vinci painted/drew beautiful ellipses. This detail is a from The Last Supper–it is the plate in front of Christ.

Ellipse demo Da Vinci

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Charcoal Drawing Part 2

charcoal drawing demo

Charcoal Drawing Part 2 by Michael Newberry

In Charcoal Drawing Part 1 you will find what are quality materials you need to get the best results.

With this tutorial, I will take you through the drawing stages.

charcoal drawing demo

The preparation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Now that you have prepared the paper you are ready to roll.

charcoal drawing demo

The charcoal rub on the paper is neither black nor light, but solidly in the middle of the tonal range. Here I am drawing with General’s charcoal pencil 6b. You will notice that I hold the pencil at the back end. It may not seem important, but you might be amazed at how the mark making becomes more fluid.

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