Back to Front, Tats 1, Time-Lapse

14 sec

For the last year or so I have been painting from the most distant background space and carefully painting in stages to the foreground. I love it! It helps create spatial movement as if a spatial pattern emerges. It also enables me to take more time with details knowing that I don’t have to redo them a thousand times. I can’t say if it is easy or not, I have a few decades of painting every day, but it has worked well with students. Try it!

 

Anatomy of Light

Understanding the makeup of light and shadow is a fundamental art tool. Indeed, you cannot create forms without it.

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Three-Quarters Classic Light

A 3/4’s light is falling on this egg form.  This means that 3/4’s of the object is directly lit and the rest of it is in shadow.

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Four Key Elements

Just looking at the form, there are four elements: highlight, mid-tone, core shadow, and reflective light.

In the light: the mid-tone and the highlight are the areas that are being “hit” by the light source.

In the shadow: the core shadow and reflective light.

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Mid-tone: The tricky part here is to mold your mid-tones so that they accent the form of the object.  Artists tend to flatten their mid-tones by making them too light, and by making the contrast between the core shadow and the mid-tone too strong. It’s crucial to round the shapes with your mid- tones, and it helps to have them become darker and blend a little bit with your core shadow. 

Highlight: To be effective, the highlight has to pop a bit. It should be many tones lighter than the other tones.

Core shadow: The core shadow runs along where the light ends, and the shadow begins. This is perhaps the most difficult part for artists to get right. It is not intuitive to darken an area inside the outline/edge/contour of the shape. One common problem is that many artists make the outside edge the darkest. This will flatten your form. Therefore, look for the darkest part of the form to be near where the light ends and shadows begin.

Reflective light: The reflective light compliments the core shadow and rounds off the form of the object. One mistake to look for is that the reflective light is not a bright light. Think of it as the moon compared with the sun. If you make it too bright, you kill off the direct light hitting the light side of the form.

Two Elements that Complete the Picture

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Cast shadow: Here is a tutorial about cast shadows.

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of rounding off the mid-tones and not making them too light. After you get the forms looking great in the mid-tone section, you can achieve a sense of light in that mid-tone area by making your negative space darker at the outside edge of the form.

Backlit

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Here, I have backlit the form, but you will see that the same essential ingredients make up this form. It has about 1/5 of its surface in light, the rest in shadow. The sliver of light has a highlight and mid-tone. The shadow area is dominated by a large reflective light area capped by a core shadow skirting the light area.

Backlighting is a device that Bouguereau often uses to light his people, and Disney films tend to light people with a similar light creating a silver lining effect.

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da Vinci, Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a textbook on how light falls on forms. Here are all the key aspects.

Just as knowing anatomy is a great tool for figurative artists, knowing the anatomy of light fall is a phenomenal resource for creating forms bathed in light.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the anatomy of light.

Michael Newberry
New York, July 11, 2007

Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive

Art Tutorials
Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive

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Courbet, The Painter’s Studio, 1855, oil on canvas, 12 x 20 feet

Representational art students are taught to be critical. During critiques, the stress is on the work’s problems. It is not uncommon to see students turning red with embarrassment or anger. Sometimes one will cry. Aside from a bully or two, most of them will accept the critiques as a necessary evil. “Grow a tough skin” is said to oneself and others. The idea is that in the art world only the tough survive.

Alone and long after college artists agonize over their work, aggressively tearing down their work, holding on to an idea of perfection. But is this the way to go? No. This activity serves little purpose other than to crush their spirit. The process doesn’t answer one key question: what makes an artwork alive? Telling us what is wrong is not a substitute for what is vibrant and living.

I think artists might better forgo negative critiques and focus on such things as successful color harmonies, beautiful forms, depth, and light. The harder critique of the two, is analyzing those special elements, and figuring out how they are created.

Focusing on what is alive will vitalize the critique process, open doors for great discoveries, and fortify artists creativity.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, January ’12

Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting Part 2, Color

Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting
Part 2, Color

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.Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are a means to place identities/forms through spatial depth.

In Part 1 I discussed how this theory works with gray tonal scales and in paintings with limited color range.  Let’s see what happens when we introduce intense colors.

 

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It’s important to note that contrast in color is not so much about light and dark but, rather, it is about color opposites. For example here is a classic color wheel in which opposite colors, also known as complimentary colors, are juxtaposed. Three major contrasts are:
Red vs. Green
Blue vs. Orange
Yellow vs. Violet

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In this diagram, blue-violet is the background color and the discs that come the  closest to it in color recede, while the yellow one, its opposite, pops forward.

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Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, September 1888
Oil on canvas, 81 x 65.5 cm
Rijksmuseum Kroller-Mueller, Otterlo

This Van Gogh painting has an intense blue background and the orange-yellow café comes forward. Notice the buildings beyond the café are variations on darks and blues. The window straight up above the café  is literally transparent but if you look closely you will see the blue sky winking throughout sections of the buildings, giving them a transparent quality as well.

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Shifting to the opposite extreme from blue we go to a scarlet background. The light turquoise disc comes forward.

In art school I was  taught that cool colors go back and warm colors come forward, this diagram contradicts that idea.

 

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Van Gogh,Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, 1889
Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

 

Intense yellow-orange sky and ground. The green silvery leaves of the olive trees come forward to us. The ground recedes towards the sky as it gets intensely orange.

 

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I think you are getting the idea of the diagrams. You can take any color as a background, mix in a few closely matching colors and then smack in an opposite color; it will pop forward.

 

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Newberry, Pastels, 1991, oil on wood, 11 x 14 inches.

 

This still life has a red background. Notice the wood base underneath the pastel boxes at the upper right side of the canvas–it is intensely colored with oranges which help it recede from us towards the red floor. Also notice the box of red, orange, and magenta pastels and how it is visually underneath the “blue” box with its “cool” colors popping forward.

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Van Gogh, Irises, 1890
Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 29 in. (92 x 73.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam

 

Three things here to notice:

1) The intense blue irises that overhang in front of the jar.

2) The color of the irises that drop behind the jar have more yellow mixed in with the blue. This is a less intense blue of the forward flowers which helps increase the distance between them.

3) The central highlight on the vase is transparent, almost the same color as the background. This helps increase the distance between it and the intense blue flowers in front.

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Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55 x 36 inches

There is a combination of both the high contrast of light and dark, and the color contrast between the orange and the blue. Notice the spatial distance between his left foot and the right. The left foot has a lot of blue mixed in with it to help it recede. Like in the example of the irises of Van Gogh. Notice also the contrast of light and dark of the tip of his head at his hairline and compare that to the less intense contrast of the lights and darks of his shoulders.

 

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Monet

Look at the arch of the blue sky and how it recedes towards a pale magenta at the horizon. Notice how the water mirrors the sky in this same manner.

On the left see the intense orange of the trees and notice how they are closer to us than the trees on the right. And look how the trees further away from us have a much more pale magenta mixed in with them.

Another thing is the high contrast of color of the orange reflections of the trees and the blue sky on the water, shooting the water underneath our feet.

Given a two-dimensional surface, transparency and contrast are a means to place identities/forms through spatial depth.

I hope you enjoyed  my idea on how artists have used transparency and contrast to create spatial depth on a two-dimensional surface.

Michael Newberry
New York, July 31st, 2006

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

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.

Great artists are doing other spatial things as well: lighting, modeling form, and perspective drawing. But for this talk, I will focus on this transparency issue.
The first figure shows a gradation of light to dark stripes on a white background. The stripes ascend like steps towards us as they get darker. The darkest “pops” out in contrast to the white background. Conversely, the lightest of the stripes recedes into the distance of the white surface.

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 Similarly, the discs “move” through space because of their relative lightness or darkness to the background and each other. The big black disc jumps forward.

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Notice what happens when the large disc changes to light gray, it recedes significantly beyond the small black one.

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Chauvet Cave, 30,000 B.C.
Horses’ Heads from the Chauvet Cave dated 30,000 years ago. Notice the gray scale of the receding heads and the black modeling of the head closest to us. Also, notice how the light gray of the surface also comes through the receding heads literally making them transparent.

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Monet, The Thames at Westminster, 1871
Oil on canvas, 47 x 72.5 cm (18 1/2 x 28 1/2″)
National Gallery, London

This Monet is an excellent example of this idea. We first see the blackness of the pylons, and the other objects dance back into space by the degree of how transparent they become, how close to the gray of the background they match.

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When the background changes to black, the principle of transparency still holds true. The closer to a black tone the background becomes the discs further recede; the white pops forward.

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Here we have two white discs, a large and a small one; now we have an example of perspective; the bigger one comes a bit more forward than the small one.

 

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Rembrandt, Hendrickje Bathing in a River, 1654
Oil on panel, 61.8 x 47 cm
National Gallery, London
Due to the extreme lightness of her body, she comes forward off the background off the dark background. Notice the transparency of her left shoulder; it sends her left arm back away from her chest. Rembrandt is working with a gray/brown/black scale, not with a full range of color. He sets objects back by making them merge to this dark tone. Compare the brilliant lightness of her shift to the middle tone glow of the material behind her on the bank. Her lightness is popping her forward.

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Here we have a gray background, the discs that come forward have become either more white or black respectively.


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Michelangelo, Christ on the Cross

In Michelangelo’s Christ the closest part of his body to us is his right knee, then it would be his right big toe, and then his left chest. These areas have the greatest contrast between light and dark. Compare the high contrast of tone of his right foot to the more muted left foot behind. Or compare the transparent area of his left knee to the intense light and dark of his right knee. Also, notice that his arms share a depth of space and have an equal range of tonal value that is less high in contrast as his forward knee. Also, notice how delicately transparent the background figures are.

I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of Transparency – A Key to Spatial Depth in Painting. Part 2 will cover how this theory works with color.
Michael Newberry
New York, May 2006

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