Workshop Series: Find the Shadows First

Newberry, House Bridge in Rhodes, pastel

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

Lessons From France

Find the Shadows and Bring Out the Light a Few Examples from Our Provence Art Experience Workshop

With Dan Zimmerman, Mathieu Brousses, Susan Surber, Wendy Higbee Carando (guest artist), Luxman Nathan, and Michael Newberry
With Dan Zimmerman, Mathieu Brousses, Susan Surber, Wendy Higbee Carando (guest artist), Luxman Nathan, and Michael Newberry

St. Paul Asylum in St. Remy

Our first morning was a bright windy day as we drove to St. Remy guided by Mathieu to visit and draw at the St. Paul Asylum where Van Gogh was a patient around 1888-9. It was also the period when he did many wonderful works. Incidentally, I did my final art history paper on Van Gogh’s painting of the asylum. We saw the VG bedroom and then we started with our first pastel drawing lesson directly underneath its window.

Our Provence Art Experience Workshop truly began seeing Van Gogh’s bedroom at St. Paul’s Asylum in St. Remy on our first day.

The students under the shadow of Van Gogh’s ghost and unfamiliar with plein air painting/drawing and with each other, and jet lagged they bravely listened to their first instructions. The concern on their faces was apparent.

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The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

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

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Eye Excitement: Why Ruins?

Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection

I have noticed lots of artists including myself are drawn into drawing abandoned places, scruffy landscapes, weathered shacks, and stone ruins. While a manicured lawn or polished mahogany conference table inspire a blau reaction. There is something visually exciting about the chaos of ruins but what is it that is triggering our vision? And why are paintings or drawings so boring when they are of pristine subjects? Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea van Doorn (a link to their abstract on pictorial space) talked with me over beers in Glasgow pub about how the eye goes blind if it cannot move about and compare and contrast tones and hues. Using my artist’s logic it makes sense that on the opposite end of the spectrum the eye becomes excited when each hue and tone is varied. My pastel of a rickety courtyard gate in Rhodes, Greece illustrates this.

Notice the gate is drawn with all kinds of unrepeated colors. The plastered gold side of the wall has countless hues ochre, and medieval stones are equally varied with its shifts between brown and gray. It seems like a lot to try to do in a 50-minute drawing, but I was helped along by all the setting’s details were all extremely varied. If you are an artist looking for something interesting to draw look for differences in everything. That will keep your eye busy and excited and the viewers’ too.

Michael Newberry