Recent works during the quarantine from two students Susan Surber, the Flower in pastel, and from Sonia L’eatarde, two girls in oil.
Very proud of my students, these works were done independently of me. They took what they had been learning and applied it on their own, self-motivated, and, in my mind, very successfully. Sonia painted the two girls from masterworks from the Prado, but they are free transcriptions. We’ve been working with color theory and forming the structure of the face. Sonia’s recent lessons with me was to freely copy some classic sculpture heads to learn form. The roundness in her children’s faces is superb. And they look like children, one of the most difficult things to do in art.
Susan’s previous lessons were on building up the light by many layers of pastel layers, gently get to the lightest patches, beautiful and delicate technique. Both students have worked very hard and fearlessly, no quick formula. For instance, if I see a weakness in the colors we will go tirelessly through how color theory works in creating forms, light, and depth — it is a conceptual technique, meaning once you get it you can apply it to any color range.
If you are interested to work with me, email me some of your work, let me know about what you would love to do most in subject and technique, and how many hours a week you can work. No formula, just a lot of fundamental work, no cheating. hahah.
Using color theory of cool shadows and warm highlights, I corrected this student’s painting. The student got stills with instructions of the steps, here it is simply a time-lapse. Shadows and distance are often either cool or warm, cool shadows imply a cool background. It works. I did about 12 steps, cooling up the background and shadows. For example, on the lips, I changed the blood-red shadows to violet, red+blue=violet. Then I softened the edges where there was a strong line between shadows and highlights, they always need a middle tone dividing them. Then I finished with the light using a light peach, light orange or peach is the opposite of blue — Warm light, cool shadows. I hope this is useful to you.
An important part of being a true artist is exploring visual knowledge. In this series of small 10×8″ paintings I tested my hypothesis that the hue (color) of shadows would have similar hues in spatial depth. The idea was gleaned from two things: looking at landscapes when the distant mountains are blue and there is blue in the shadows of everything including in the foreground. And from my study of the colors of the light and shadows of Rembrandt and Monet, what was different yet similar between them.
At first glance of my paintings above look fairly natural and you will notice the simple objects gently lit. Which is a good thing. This implies that the hypothesis is working. They each have a different color base: red, black, burnt umber, manganese blue, ultra marine blue, gray, and sienna. This means when a lit white stripe in the foreground enters into a shadow it will merge with that shadow’s color base, for instance if the base is manganese blue the white stripe now turns turquoise. The real complexity begins when the further you go back in space the colors of things take on more manganese blue hues.
This fits with a classical view of warmer colors come forward and cooler colors go back but what happens when we reverse this and give the shadows the hot red or sienna and use those hues to blend with the background colors? Yay, it still works in the sense of creating depth and light. As soon as the first artists started painting real things like horses on two-dimensional cave walls there was a paradox that it was a lie and a truth. The advantage of being able to work with radically different color schemes gives the artist more emotional range and visual options. And it gives the viewer more to look for in the world around them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love working pastel on dark paper for one important reason: the pastel being lighter than the paper directly creates a pure colored light.
The paper is dark brown Canson, 19 x 26″.
You can start with any color you like, but it is important that the tone of the pastel is only one notch lighter than the paper–just enough so that you can see your marks. The blue outlines here are Prussian Blue, one of the darker blues
Warmer or Cooler
In this image, I am beginning to block out the entire paper. The background walls, in reality, are white and the floor is a wood floor. When I work with pastel, one of the things I ask myself is whether the color is warmer or cooler. The white of the wall is cool and the orange of the floor is warm. Then taking a cool dark color, almost any kind of blue or green, which is one step lighter than the paper, I blocked out the background wall. Then, with the same idea, yet with a warm color, a dark burnt orange, I did the floor, her body, and the shadow of the cloth.