Workshop Series: Composition!

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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

newberry-palm-triangulation

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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

Workshop Series: Find the Shadows First

Newberry, House Bridge in Rhodes, pastel

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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

The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

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The Problem: A Bright Sky

In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.

The Lie

Claude Monet Landscape
Claude Monet

Continue reading “The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting”

Damn Complex Chaos to Visual Language

Newberry, Orb 3, oil on linen, 10x8"

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.

True Lies: Warp Negative Space

Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

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Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Picasso

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.

Continue reading “True Lies: Warp Negative Space”

Polyclitus’ Canon of Proportions

Doryphoros, Polyclitus the cannon of proportions, golden age of Greece

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Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.
Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.

The 5th Century B.C. sculptor, Polyclitus, wrote the famous treatise about what methods make the beautiful (to kallos)  and good (to eu) in art, unfortunately now lost. We know something of it through historians such as Pliny and Plutarch. Often mentioned is Polyclitus’ belief in measurements of one finger joint with the next, then the fingers to metacarpus (base of the hand), and it to the wrist, and all of these to the forearm, the forearm to the arm, and so on.

Polyclitus, in his treatise, also dealt with issues other than proportions such as the organic balance of tension and relaxation of body parts.

Polyclitus called this sculpture, The Canon. I think it is wonderful that he wrote a treatise on art and “put his money where is mouth is” by showing what he meant as well.

Notice in the sculpture that he emphasized the man’s little finger, a little like an exclamation mark.

Polyclitus was working the proportions of the natural forms. For example, his fingers look natural, as do other parts of the body, and as does the whole of the body.  The forms weren’t generic shapes of measurements.

King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo
King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Contrast The Canon with this Egyptian sculpture, in which the rudimentary proportion of the overall figure is balanced. However,  when we take a detailed look the forms they remain generic and unnatural–as if they are rounded blocks.

Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame
Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame

It is also important to note that beauty is connected with pleasing proportions. The antithesis is that ugliness is unbalanced proportions. Think of an hunchback with a hump on one side of his back and topped off by a malformed and unsymmetrical head.

I hope you enjoyed seeing math in art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, March 6, 2007

Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 1, Black/White

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Art Tutorial
Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting
Part 1, Black/White

This online tutorial is a transcription from a 2002 lecture I gave at the Courage of Your Perceptions Conference (Satellite to the EC’s Vision Scientists’ Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland.

We have examples of artworks from 30,000 years ago to the present in which artists have worked with spatial depth in their drawings and paintings. I have been fascinated by this phenomenon and, for years, I have asked myself how did these artists achieve these startling effects. The result of my query is the formulation of the concept that:
Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are the means to place forms in spatial depth.

Transparency will place the forms in depth away from us, and contrast will raise them towards us.

Continue reading “Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 1, Black/White”