Pastel on Dark Paper – Just Add Light

Pastel on Dark Paper – Just Add Light by Michael Newberry

Pastel and dark paper are a great combo to create light effects.

Whenever I am a little stressed or some of my big projects weigh on my mind I get out pastels and some nice black or beautifully dark paper, like a Cansons, and go to town.

I love working pastel on dark paper for one important reason: the pastel being lighter than the paper directly creates a pure colored light.

I remember being in a kind of down mood and when Kimberly arrived to model I wanted to shake off that mood and feel free. We collaborated on this pose, one quite difficult to hold for more than 2 or 3 minutes.

The paper is black Cansons, 19 x 26″.

Pastel on Dark Paper

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

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, on 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.

My particular style of mark making with pastel is hatching. I like to keep the color as pure and direct as possible and layer different colors one on top of another to create nuance.

It’s also important to leave some space between the hatching, to let the paper come through. There is limited “tooth” to the paper and if you solidly cover the paper, after 10 steps down the road, the pastel won’t “take” anymore. In other words, there is nothing there for the pastel to adhere to and nothing happens.

Pastel on Dark Paper

The idea is to gradually add light and color one tone at a time starting with those dark tones just one step lighter than the paper.

Here is the completed, blocked out image. The cloth in real life is Canary Yellow, and I blocked it in with a dark orange about two tones lighter than the paper – I knew it was going to have more layers of color added to it.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Now comes the light part. My focus here is to add another layer of color in the light areas, one step lighter than what came before. Parts of background wall and floor are in dark shadow, I am leaving them alone.

I like to add one layer of light in an area, careful to step up the tone slowly, then stop and go to another area. Here I brought up the yellow cloth, then I went to the floor and to her body. Then I added a third light to the cloth and to her body. Notice the slight pinkish quality of her chest in contrast to the gold of the cloth.

One technique of looking I cannot stress enough is squinting your eyes to look about you–squint and compare with your drawing. Squinting keeps your focus on the essential tones of the light and shadow. In other words, it keeps your focus on the forest and not on the individual trees.

Note about mistakes: if you find that you messed up an area, there are two quick solutions to that. One is to totally wipe out the area with a paper towel going all the way back to the original tone of the paper. Or, take a pastel that is the same color of the paper and gingerly hatch a few strokes of that in the area and it should refresh the area considerably.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Here I stepped back to re-assess where I was in the drawing. I went back into the background realizing its darkest area was lighter than the darkest area on the floor. I added more light to the cloth and added more detail to the light hitting Kimberly’s body. And I add some hot color, red, to her left arm’s cast shadow.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Our session was winding down. At this point, Kimberly could only hold up the cloth for about 20 seconds.

Now I got to blast the highlights! It takes some discipline to wait on the highlights, after all they are the first thing I was attracted to in the image. But, trust me, it is worth it.

The biggest mistake artists make is after they get one great effect with a highlight they indiscriminately highlight other areas with the same tone and color. Mistake! Don’t do that. It kills the eyes’ interest.

It is imperative that you distinguish the color, intensity, and brightness of your highlighted areas. Here, the light on her breast was the lightest area, slightly pinkish. Next was the intense yellow highlight just left of her right breast. The third brightest was the deep yellow of the cloth above her head. And the fourth was the less intense yellow under her left armpit.

This is not a finished piece, but I find it a wonderful color sketch that I had a lot of fun doing–and it totally shook off the ill mood I had before we began the session.

Pastel on Dark Paper

Pastel on dark paper will help you see light in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, May 2006

Lights and Darks in 3’s

Lights and Darks in 3’s by Michael Newberry
One big problem that artists face when developing light and shadow in a work is that they tend to have the exact same darks and lights scattered around the surface. The result is that it kills the life out of the drawing!

A great way to solve that problem is to celebrate a hierarchy of lights and darks. The simplest way to do that is to focus on three different tones of lights and darks.

Here I will take you through what I mean.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Dreams of Round Things, 2006, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26 x 19 inches.

After I had lined up the proportions of Kelly, I was ready to organize my tones.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The real-life background was a dark, cobalt blue felt air mattress. Since the darkest object was going to be her hair, I chose the mattress as my 2nd darkest object.
Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I have two things blocked out–her dark hair and the background.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here I added my third dark–her cast shadow on the floor. Next, I started on the lights. The highlight on the wood floor was going to be my least brightest of the lights.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

My choice for tones was not arbitrary. I compared and contrasted all the tones in my field of vision. Kelly has a lovely light skin, so I knew she was going to be the lightest thing in the drawing, even though she was predominately in shadow.

After I mildly block out the light of the floor I was ready to start on her. The light on her leg looks almost shockingly bright, but, technically, I knew that brighter whites were to me.

For you artists, I was using soft charcoal pencils and a kneaded eraser. The kneaded erasers are wonderful for lightening the paper, yet it takes some hard erasers to bring out the brightest whites.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
Here everything is blocked out. I clearly have dark, darker, and darkest : the cast shadow, the background, and her hair.

For the lights, the highlights on her shoulder, breast, and forearm are the brightest. The rest of her body is the second brightest while the surface of the floor is the least bright.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks
For the rest of the drawing, I am molding, tweaking, and detailing her and the background–being careful to be well aware of my hierarchy of lights and darks.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

Towards the end of the drawing is the easiest place to lose sight of your hierarchy of the lights and darks. For example, I began to add the details of the shadows and highlights of the mattress’ circular cushions. There were many really dark shadows, and, of course, the mistake would have been to make them as dark as her hair. So it took some discipline to make them as dark as possible without stepping over the boundary to my darkest black.

Female Nude, Lights and Darks

The consequence is that her hair has a kind of brilliant, rich freshness to it that would have been lost otherwise.

It should be a lot of fun for you to try this technique out–or to look for a hierarchy of lights and darks in other artists’ works. Enjoy.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 17th, 2006

Integration, Part 1: Light

Integration, Part 1: Light by Michael Newberry

Integration is, perhaps, the most complex problem in making art. Often it is the cause of an artist’s agony and ecstasy.In this series on integration, each tutorial will focus on one problem and show how the solution fits into the whole.

The theme of Counterpose is about a harmony of contrast. At that time in my life, it reflected my quest to pull together many different aspects of art and life and to balance them.

I have removed the color from this image so that we can focus on the tonal values of the light.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo

Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″ (Black/white photo)
Notice the dramatic difference between the highlights on her face and fingers and the dark casted shadows. I am purposefully using light and shadow to support the painting’s theme of contrast.

In the orange circle, you can see the high contrast of the fabric of the folds.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo
Almost every part of her body has an element of contrast between the light and shadow. You will notice that the highest contrasts are in the foreground and as parts of her body recede away from us the contrast diminishes. This also allows for her body to be integrated into space, which, of course, is another tutorial.

Newberry, Counterpose b/w demo
As a foil to Counterpose, the theme of Denouement is about the radiance of love. It has a much softer, diffused light which radiates out from the lamp on the floor.

Though these b/w photos are of the finished paintings in color, I did paint a monochromatic underpainting for both of them. The advantage of monochromatic under-painting is that it is easier to organize all the tonal values and details without the added worry of the hue (color values) of things.

If you are a painter struggling with a mess that isn’t coming together, take the color out and it will immediate help pull the work together. From that point, go back into color, carefully matching the color with your monochromatic tonal values.

Newberry, b/w of Denouement

Denouement, 1987, oil on linen (Black/white photo)

Here is a side by side comparison of Counterpose in color and without.

Newberry, Counterpose contrast

The next tutorial on integration will be about the high contrast of color in Counterpose.
Michael Newberry
New York, July 28th, 2006

Integration, Part 2: Color

Integration, Part 2: Color by Michael Newberry

Newberry, Counterpose demo

Newberry, Counterpose, 1990, oil on linen, 36×42″
In the tutorial, Integration of Light, 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.

The main color theme is about the contrast of her hot red hair and warm colors of her body with the cool blues of the futon cover.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

Perhaps more important than that, and perhaps much more subtle is the color contrast between the objects in the light and the objects in shadow.

The set up started with a yellowish-orange incandescent light bulb, which gave the objects yellowish highlights.
Here, in the areas circled with blue, I am showing the violet and blue-violet shadows on her body. Her foot is shaped with light and dark violets, yet her foot is essentially bathed in shadow; it is not touched by the direct yellow light.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

The contrast between violet shadows and yellow highlights is one of the most radical color contrasts possible. And yet, I believe, I have given them a natural-looking, harmonious glow.

To understand how color contrast works, a color wheel is indispensable. It is out of the scope of this tutorial to discuss how a color wheel is based upon natural visual phenomena; for the moment trust me on that.

Newberry, Counterpose demo colorwheel

The classic contrasts are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet. One reason they are considered opposites is that when you mix them you get a non-color; something neither gray nor brown.

When you juxtapose contrasting colors they serve a bit like contrasting black and white, you get an intense burst of color vibration. If you put violet next to yellow, it pops and excites the eye.

Here I outlined a few of the highlights on the blue fabric. These highlights have a slight greenish tint to them because of the yellow light. If you add yellow light to blue cloth you get green.

Newberry, Counterpose
As we get further away from the direct yellow light that is smacking green at the front the futon, the blue of the futon merges progressively with the violet color.

Newberry, Counterpose demo
Whether it is a high contrast of color in the light, or the color contrast of flesh, cloth, background, and hair in this painting, you will find an endless kaleidoscope of pure color contrasts: blue vs. orange, yellow vs. violet, and red vs. green.

Newberry, Counterpose demo

As simple as Counterpose may look, it’s a very complex painting with many variations on the theme of a harmony of contrasts.

Next in the series on integration I will be discussing how her pose embellishes the theme.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 17th, 2006

Jacob Collins, Sensuous Nature of Light

Jacob Collins, Sensuous Nature of Light by Michael Newberry

To talk about the art of Jacob Collins is to talk about his inquisitiveness.

Jacob Collins is a contemporary realist artist. He paints and draws portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, and nudes. Across the board, he imbues them all with sensuous light and an aptitude for finely wrought detail. He reminds me of a scientist who shines a light on an object to see it to full advantage. And like a scientist, he sees beauty in realizing his understanding of things. He told me “I find beauty in observing and in furthering my knowledge about light, the identity of plants and trees, and even such things as the nature of the formation of rocks and land masses.”

Currently, he is working on completing a landscape project of 50 oil paintings and graphite studies, with the centerpiece being a large landscape 50 x 100″. An exhibition of this landscape project will be on view May 8 – June 13, 2008, at Hirschl Alder Modern in New York City.

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins

In this graphite on paper, Collins concerns himself only with the silhouette and shape of the land and tree masses, leaving the sky and water blank. This frees him to fully concentrate on details of the trees and land masses, as well as their relationships. In other studies, he has concentrated on only the water or some other section of the total image.

In his student days in the 80’s, aside from copying masterworks in Museums in New York and Italy, he studied anatomy to fully comprehend the curves and landmarks on the body’s surfaces. Integral to his figure studies is his need to see what the light is doing on the surfaces.

Jacob Collins

This drawing, a study for the painting Redhead, shows the light and dark on her body. In addition, Collins has made notations, commenting on how to further enhance the lights and darks. A painter that is working with light has one enormous obstacle to overcome: light in real life is about a hundred times brighter than the re-creation of light with paint and canvas. An artist, through paint, can’t very well shine a 500-watt halogen light in your face! One way an artist simulates light is to show the reflection of light on objects. Think of the Moon in relationship to the Sun. Another thing that an artist can do, and which Jacob has done, is to fine tune the nuances of light to the nth degree. Compare the different tones of highlights of her forehead, breast, and thigh. Once viewers have adjusted their eyes to a painting that has a great range of nuance between light and dark, their eyes will feel the brightness of the light.

Jacob Collins

I found it easy to talk with Jacob. Perhaps, because he is also an educator and a man who goes his own way. He is the founder of the Hudson River School for Landscape in Hunter, NY, the Founder of Grand Central Academy of Art in NYC, and the Founder of Water Street Atelier also in NYC. He has also taught at National Academy of Design, the Portrait Society of America, and the New York Academy of Art.

Jacob Collins

Drawing is my favorite Collin’s painting. Spreading out in foreshortened perspective are the paper and tools for drawing. Even if you are not an artist, you might have experienced the joy in going into an art store and seeing and feeling the textures of the papers, looking at the pastels and charcoals, and wondering how much fun it would be to make art. Notice the different textures and subtle colors of the papers in Drawing. You might notice the highlighted, ruffled, and delicately torn edges of several of the papers. I have fond memories of learning about different papers as an art student. One lesson we learned was to tear a really good acid-free 100% cotton rag paper to size using a straight edge–it’s a very sensual experience. Collins gets that tactile beauty of the paper down exactly.

Jacob Collins

In the painting, Candace, Jacob is doing several impressive things. One is that the composition is powerfully divided between the light and dark of the fabrics, which is echoed by the high contrast of light and dark on her body. The modeling of her body is superb. Notice the form of her left thigh, how the form rotates up to the highlight on the iliac crest, and then gently descends onto the plain of her taught belly. Her flesh-tone color is natural, rich, and subtle. Notice the pinkish fingertips, the crisp pearl-color of her breasts, the cool blue mid-tone of her ribs, and the ochre highlights of her thighs.

Jacob Collins

In Candace, and in Collins’ art in general, I cannot help but see hints of da Vinci’s attention to molding forms, Rembrandt’s hierarchy of light, and Bouguereau’s delicate skin colorization.

A funny experience I have had with musicians has been their use of the word “stagnant” to describe the form of painting. But Jacob describes light as it “bounces in soft and hard ways.” A good place to see this “bounce” is by comparing the highlight on her forehead, to the shoulder’s highlight silhouetting her chin, and to the highlight on her throat. Collins is “bouncing” the highlights through space.

The last aspect of this painting I will comment on is the exquisite detailing of the fabric. Collins painted her body first, then he set up the fabric with a mannequin so that he could paint the folds of the cloth undisturbed. By doing this, he could arrange the folds of the cloth to bring out their beauty, even down to the smallest details, and he gave himself all the time he needed do to them justice.

Many people wonder why artists go through all this work when they can simply copy a photograph. Collins volunteered that “photos are not as rich an experience as working from life.” Let’s take a cue from Collins, and enrich our lives by looking more closely at his universe of inquiry and light.

Michael Newberry
New York, April 2008
Originally published in The New Individual