How Michael Newberry rediscovered the role of color in creating the illusion of depth and space.
The Grizzly Professor
Edgar Ewing came through the door. The students beheld a tweed suit topped with a grizzly gray mustache and sparkling blue eyes. He moved with the melody of confidence and the whimsy of delight. He set down his case on the table, spread his arms, and smiled at the the classroom of freshman students. “Making art,” he announced “is like making love.”
The students looked at one another with sidelong smiles, most of them inexperienced with one or the other part of the metaphor, and certainly not fathoming the connection between the two. It was the first day of a fundamentals of oil painting class at USC. The year was 1974. To read more and see large images at Medium
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.
Study Pastel Plein Air with Michael Newberry in France
Join us in the Fall of 2020 for an great pastel workshop visiting sites of outstanding beauty and history guided and hosted by the knowledgeable, kind, thoughtful, and local expert Mathieu Brousses, and taught by internationally acclaimed artist me, Michael Newberry. Comfortable living situation, with all meals either prepared by a French local, picnic, and local bistros.
“Mathieu in addition to being so creative, gracious and generous as a host, is just a great human being full of patience and wisdom. His knowledge of French culture and our various venues ensured that each day was filled with delight.” Dan Zimmerman, participant in the 2019 Provence Art Workshop.
For Fall 2020 we plan to use Luberon as our hub. Here are samples of our possible itineraries:
Our host Mathieu Brousses
Some pics from last month’s workshop in Provence, May 2019.
About our teacher Michael Newberry
I taught several plein air painting and pastel workshops in NY, Mexico, Greece, Santa Monica, Italy, and France. And I formally taught Life Drawing, Composition, and Painting at the prestigious Otis College of Art and Design. When I am not teaching you will find me painting in my cabin studio under the monumental granite outcrop of Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild, California, accompanied by my studio assistant doggy, Frida. More info on my extensive bio here.
Dan Zimmerman’s reflections on our 2019 workshop:
I was a bit nervous about the workshop, very similar to coming back to school after summer vacation, wondering if I had forgotten everything I had learned the previous term. I just knew, even before going on the trip, that I would be with like minded people passionate about art. I loved the fact that the other students, Susan and Luxman, were both as convinced as I was of the talent and teaching ability of our instructor! Our accommodations were good, and my memory foam mattress was so very comfortable! I think I would have rather stayed on a ground floor, but the stairs were ok :) I think our cook Agnes’ daily dinners were such a wonderful part of the whole experience.
The teaching was a good balance between being flexible and relaxed, and focused, hard work! What I mean by that was I feel we all really applied ourselves and tried to learn as much as we could from each situation. Because of our small class size, we each received lots of attention and this was really invaluable. After my initial success that first day, my confidence level went way up and I was able to enjoy the whole experience.
I thought all the sites we visited were just superb. We certainly adjusted things well when “le mistrail’ blew so hard, and it lead to one of my most treasured drawings, the fruit basket ‘still life’.
Yes, several lessons learned: 1. Look for the shadows, drive towards the light, 2. Make your corners interesting in composing a picture, 3. If you share the ‘perfect picture’, there’s no need to search for another “perfect” shot. 4. The feedback of my peers was a very enriching experience.
Yes, I highly recommend this workshop!
If you are interested in attending please contact me, email@example.com or Mathieu at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can plan accordingly and make a spectacular and meaningful experience happen.
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.
Painting Denouement was a chance to live inside glowing, colorful light and to express through art what love feels like to me.
Puccini, Polyclitus, Aristophanes, Beethoven, and Michelangelo rock my world. In their time, they were innovators with a love of beauty, humanity, and passion. Their art was a constant source of inspiration.
There were visual influences for Denouement. But most of the epic works were from “brown” painters, classic technique with a limited pallet in which dark things are brown and black hues. The French Impressionists had a fantastic sense of color harmonies in light and shadow. What I had in mind was to take the best of both and integrate them.
In the tutorial, Integration of Light, Part 1, I mentioned that the theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. I showed how I painted extreme contrasts in light and dark. In this tutorial, I am showing how, keeping to the theme of contrast, I painted extremes of color contrasts.